Have you ever climbed a flight or two of stairs in a rush and felt completely winded by the time you got to the top? If so, you’re not alone.
No matter what kind of shape you’re in, a short climb up the stairs seems to be the one thing that gets you super out of breath. Here’s why it happens and how you can (kind of) fix it.
Breathing isn’t as easy as it seems
Although you breathe without giving it a thought, it’s actually a complex process. It’s based on different types of sensory signals that help your body communicate with your brain and tell your brain what it needs. Self.com uses the example of someone with asthma—the airways might be more narrow, which makes the body sense it’s not getting enough oxygen. And that’s why when someone has an asthma attack, his or her body suddenly goes into overdrive; it’s trying to deliver as much oxygen as possible.
A similar situation happens when you’re walking up the stairs: Your body’s sensory receptors realize your muscles need more oxygen, so it suddenly—and rapidly—increases your breathing.
You’re actually giving your body a quick workout
According to Health.com, the reason we get so out of breath for a moment is because we go from an oxygen-full state to an oxygen-depleted state. We’re quickly switching from using a little energy to using a lot, and our bodies need to catch up with us. You start breathing heavier because more oxygen suddenly needs to be delivered to your muscles. Then, when you stop (and get to the top of the staircase), your body takes a minute to return to normal, which is why you seem so out of breath even though you hardly feel like you got a workout.
Everyone gets tired—but not always at the same time
The difference between being “in shape” or “out of shape” doesn’t necessarily depend on whether or not you get tired. The truth is, everyone gets tired, it just depends on when. You might be able to climb four steps to your front door no sweat, but climbing two flights of stairs from your basement to your bedroom could make you winded. Some people can climb 12 steps without getting tired, while some people do feel it after four. The number of stairs you can climb without needing to catch your breath is a good measure of what kind of physical shape you’re in.
Working your heart more often can adjust your body and solve the problem
It’s important to note that sending a sudden burst of energy through your body will always make you feel a little winded. But if you don’t want it to seem like you just ran a marathon every time you climb a few flights, you can adjust your workout routine to make a difference. When you work out harder, you build more heart and skeletal muscle, which means your body doesn’t need to make as drastic of an adjustment for the small stuff, like stairs. The more muscle you build, the more physical activity your body can handle without getting tired. Spend some time working your heart at the gym. After a while, you’ll see an improvement next time you take the stairs up to your office.
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