I am 24 years old with a little body fat. Whenever I try to run or exercise I run short of breath immediately and find it difficult to draw breath. In fact most activities that require fast movement render me short of breath. What could be the issue?
For how long have you experienced this problem? How much overweight are you?
Obese people can have obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS). This leads to reduced ventilation, lower oxygen levels and higher carbon dioxide levels in blood. The result is that one gets breathless on moderate to severe exertion, depending on the severity of obesity and amount of physical exertion. During any physical activity oxygen demand of body is increased. Breathlessness occurs due to inadequate amount of oxygen reaching the tissues.
Breathlessness due to obesity is said to be because of reduced control of brain over ventilation. Excess weight over the chest, makes it harder for muscles to breathe in. Excess weight over chest also hampers good functioning of lungs. The person may have a flushed face, bluish discoloration of lips and fingers. Due to obesity one also suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, resulting in disturbed sleep. This can lead to day time somnolence and or depression.
Weight reduction can help solve this problem. This can be done by taking a low calorie diet including more of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, avoiding meat other than fish, avoiding alcohol. Regular physical exercise is very important. But one should exercise to their ability. The quantity of exercise should be increased gradually.
Weight reduction should be gradual , not more than around 2Kg/month. Breathing exercises also help in regulating breathing and increasing amount of oxygen delivered to tissues.
It is also advisable to exclude any organic cause for obesity like hypothyroidism by relevant tests. If positive, treatment of this condition will help reduce extra fat and improve stamina for exercise..
Dr Rachna Pande is a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital