What Causes Dizziness After Exercise?

Tired jogger dizzy after her run
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There are certain unpleasant side effects of exercise that you probably expect, like sweating and muscle aches. Other symptoms, like getting dizzy after a workout or feeling lightheaded after exercise, might take you by surprise or even be alarming.

To figure out why you are experiencing a faint or wobbly feeling post-workout, it's important to understand different types of dizziness and the different causes. Some types of lightheadedness can be managed on your own, but others might require that you reach out to your healthcare provider.

Types of Post-Workout Dizziness

Lightheadedness post-exercise is often associated with high-intensity or endurance exercise, such as running too far or too fast. That said, even people who engage in more moderate exercises may find that a workout leaves them feeling unsteady.

Carefully taking note of your symptoms will help you determine the type of dizziness you're experiencing. Specific symptoms can be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs medical attention.

There are two types of dizziness you might experience during or after a workout:

  • Lightheadedness: With this type of dizziness, you might feel as though you will faint. You may also feel unbalanced, though it will not seem like your surroundings are moving. Usually, this type of dizziness subsides if you lay down.
  • Vertigo: With this type of dizziness, it will feel as though your surroundings are spinning. You might have a tilting or off-balance sensation even though your surroundings are not moving at all. In severe cases, you may even feel nauseated and vomit.

Occasional episodes of lightheadedness are not unusual for most people. However, if you develop symptoms of vertigo, you should know this condition can be serious.

Vertigo can be especially serious when combined with other symptoms such as a change in speech or vision, confusion, the inability to stand, or severe nausea or vomiting.

Always tell your doctor about any changes to your general health. It will help if you are prepared to describe the type of dizziness you are experiencing.

If changes to your equilibrium don't subside, or if vertigo is accompanied by any loss of function, reach out to a healthcare provider immediately.

Common Causes

Dizziness after exercise is sometimes caused by the workout itself—particularly if you pushed the limits and worked harder than usual. For example, hyperventilation (rapid breathing) can cause you to become lightheaded.

Dizziness can also be caused by certain lifestyle factors or changes to your lifestyle, including:

  • What you eat and how hydrated you are
  • Whether you use drugs and/or alcohol
  • Whether you are taking prescription or over-the-counter medications and/or any herbal supplements or remedies

Dehydration

Dizziness and nausea can be symptoms of dehydration. If you did not hydrate adequately prior to exercising and during your workout, you might feel lightheaded.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar can lead to feelings of sluggishness, shakiness, weakness, and even stomach discomfort. Hypoglycemia is usually associated with diabetes, but it has also been reported in non-diabetic athletes.

In this case, low blood sugar is caused by an imbalance between training volume, nutrition, and other factors such as temperature or altitude.

Alcohol, Drug Use, and Medications

Dizziness can be a side effect of certain prescription medications, such as those used to treat hypertension and depression. Some over-the-counter medications can also cause dizziness.

The recreational use of drugs and alcohol can cause dizziness on their own or in combination with other medications (both during and after they are used).

Other Possible Causes

There are other reasons you might feel lightheaded during a workout. Dizziness at the gym can be a sign that you are getting a cold or the flu, or that you are dealing with season allergies. Lightheadedness can also occur when you are experiencing anxiety or stress.

Even a quick change in body position can cause short-term dizziness, a condition called orthostatic or postural hypotension.

Tips to Avoid Dizziness During or After Exercise

Careful planning and thoughtful awareness can help you avoid the uncomfortable feeling of instability or lightheadedness at the gym or during any physical activity.

Plan Snacks and Meals

If you usually work out in the morning before breakfast, that may mean your body hasn't had any fuel since dinner the night before.

The likely scenario? You get up, start exercising, and your blood sugar plummets, leaving you feeling nauseous, lightheaded, and weak.

Instead of working out on an empty stomach, eat a light breakfast—preferably one that contains protein, complex carbohydrate, and some healthy fat. For example, try peanut butter on a banana or avocado on whole-wheat toast.

This advice also applies if you exercise right after work and before dinner. Food is fuel. If you don't have enough fuel in your system, you won't have the energy to keep up with the demands of your workout. Good on-the-go options include sports bars and trail mix.

Stay Hydrated

Dizziness and nausea are also both symptoms of dehydration. The importance of staying hydrated when you exercise cannot be stressed enough. Moderate exercise rarely requires all the glucose and sodium found in sports drinks. A healthy dose of water before, during, and after your workout will do the trick.

That said, you also don't want to overdo it on the water before a workout. If you drink too much water right before exercising, it can slosh around in your stomach and lead to nausea.

Hydration rules vary based on several factors. If you are exercising for a shorter duration, in cooler conditions, or at a lower intensity, drinking according to thirst is usually sufficient.

If you are exercising for longer than 90 minutes, particularly in the heat, a planned hydration schedule is needed.

Experts advise that those with high sweat rates or those concerned with exercise performance determine their sweat rates and tailor their water intake to prevent body mass losses greater than 2%.

Slow Down

Postural hypotension usually indicates a sudden drop in blood pressure. If you experience dizziness often when exercising, consult a health care provider.

If a head rush is only an occasional occurrence, the best fix is to take your time when changing positions. If there's a particular exercise that you know gives you that feeling, try moving through it more slowly or just leave it out of your routine.

Steady Your Gaze

Another cause of a motion sickness-like sensation during exercise is letting your gaze drift as you're moving. In most exercises, the head is held in line with the spine and the gaze is level from there. If your eyes are wandering or off-center as you are moving, it can make you feel disoriented.

Whether you're on a Pilates reformer, a rowing machine, or even doing crunches, pick one spot to look at rather than letting your eyes become unfocused.

Use Targeted Breathing Practices

Many exercises, including swimming, weightlifting, yoga, and Pilates, coordinate breath with movement. When done properly, this practice can have a calming and integrative effect. It can also help you avoid feeling unwell from a lack of oxygen.

How you should breathe during exercise depends on what type of physical activity you're doing. For instance, when lifting weights, you should breathe out as you lift the weight and breathe in as you lower it.

If you're prone to shallow breathing when walking and running, learning to breathe deeply from your belly will help you get a full inhalation and exhalation.

Don't Hold Your Breath

People often hold their breath while exercising, especially during high-intensity exercise. This can produce a sharp rise in blood pressure, followed by a sudden drop in blood pressure.

This is known as the Valsalva effect. It can lead to dizziness and lightheadedness, and even cause you to faint.

Avoid Shallow Breathing

Many people keep their abdominal muscles sucked in continuously, which deprives their bodies of the belly-expanding major portion of each breath. As a result, their breathing becomes shallow.

Shallow breathing can be detrimental during physical activity, such as when walking or running at a moderate or fast pace and need more oxygen. It's also a recipe for lightheadedness.

Don't Overwork Your Breath

On the opposite end of the respiration spectrum, it's also possible to overwork your breath. In exercises like yoga, Pilates, and tai chi, your breathing is usually tightly controlled. However, you might be breathing too hard for the amount of exertion you're actually putting out.

Teachers or instructors might encourage students to exaggerate their breath so much that it causes dizziness. It might even lead to hyperventilation.

If you're getting overworked with your breath, take it as a sign to back off and find a flow that works for you.

Take Time Off

Dizziness after exercise might also be your body's way of telling you to take some time off. If you think you might be getting sick, you are feeling stressed or anxious, or you are trying to manage seasonal allergies, consider taking a rest day or simply doing an easier workout.

Similarly, if you are feeling unwell after a night out, are getting over an illness, or are adjusting to a new medication, it might be best to take a day off from the gym until you're fully recovered.

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Article Sources
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