One of the first apartments I lived in after graduating from college was on the third floor of a massive complex. And the only way to get to my front door was by climbing three flights of U-shaped stairs.
When signing that lease, silly 22-year-old me didn’t consider the fact that I would have to climb a mini Mt. Everest multiple times every day. Not to mention the move. Ugh.
My point is, even at that age I would find myself getting winded when I got to the top of the stairs. And it never got easier. Was I really that out of shape? Did that stupid smoking phase cause that much damage?
According to cardiologist Dr. Satjit Bhusri, if you are getting winded after going up a flight of stairs, it actually has nothing to do with your fitness level or how “in shape” you are.
The Phenomenon Has A Name
Dr. Bhusri told Well and Good that there is actually a medical term for “getting winded.” It’s called dyspnea—a phenomenon that occurs when your heart is “working in overdrive” while you’re exerting your muscles in a strenuous activity.
The cardiologist explained that when you are doing something like going up a steep flight of stairs, “your muscles are demanding more oxygen supply and your heart is trying to meet that demand.”
“The final result is cardiac output, which is essentially the amount of energy your heart is putting out to the body,” Dr. Bhusri explains.
In an attempt to balance its cardiac output, your body will do things like speed up your heart rate. Or, maybe it will force you to breathe faster. This is why you will feel your heart pounding.
Why Is This Happening?
Physical therapist Cristian Plascencia told Well and Good that if you find yourself getting winded after climbing stairs, there are a few reasons why it might be happening.
“Maybe you haven’t had enough to eat and are under-nourished, maybe you had a tough training cycle, or maybe your heart has a hard time being able to pump more blood and oxygen throughout your body as you increase the demands of your system by going up stairs,” Plascencia explains.
How To Fix It
To make your climb easier, Plascencia recommends low-intensity activity—like a walk or hike—with a focus on breathing. Start with 30 minutes a day, and then gradually work your way up to an hour and 15 minutes. With this method, you’ll definitely see some improvements when it’s time for stairs.
“Breathing through your nose during low-intensity activities can help ensure you keep your heart rate relatively low and also help your body become more efficient at breathing and utilizing oxygen,” Plascencia says.