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Exercise and Dizziness

Avoid Getting Dizzy or Nauseas While Exercising


Updated June 06, 2014

Female jogger with water bottle
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It is no fun to get nauseated or dizzy when you work out. This is a problem that is usually associated with over-exertion, like running too far too fast. But even people who are engaged in more moderate exercise sometimes find that exercise is making them feel sick. It could be a problem that needs medical attention, but there are some other easily addressed causes of nausea/dizziness.

One of the biggest culprits is low blood sugar.
People often like to workout in the morning before breakfast, but that means that the body may have had no fuel since dinner the night before. So, you get up, get into exercising, and the blood sugar plummets. You feel nauseous and weak. Better to have a light breakfast, preferably some protein and/or complex carbohydrate with a little healthy fat-- foods will keep you going for a while. Another scenario might be the person who goes to class right after work and before dinner. No time to eat, no fuel for those working muscles. In this case a light snack or sports bar could do the trick.
A Word to the Wise: eating or drinking too much and trying to exercise can be equally uncomfortable!

Stay Hydrated - Drink Water.
While we are on the topic of food, it can’t be stressed enough that it is important to be well hydrated when you exercise. Moderate types of exercise, like Pilates, rarely require all the glucose and sodium that one finds in sports drinks, but a healthy dose of water is essential. Dizziness and nausea are both symptoms of dehydration.

A "head rush" can be caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure.
Orthostatic hypotension is the technical name for that dizzy feeling you get when you stand up too fast. It means that there has been a sudden drop in blood pressure. This can be caused my medications, it can also be caused by blood pressure that is too low or another health problem. If you experience dizziness often when exercising, you should consult a health care provider. On the other hand, many of us experience "the head rush" occasionally. The best fix for that is to move from head-down to head-up slowly. If there is a particular exercise that you know gives you that feeling, try moving through it more slowly or leave it out of your routine.
Read more about head rush and dizziness

Make sure you know where your gaze should be.
Another cause of a motion sickness like experience in exercise is letting the gaze drift as you are moving. In Pilates, and most exercise, the head is held in line with the spine and the gaze is level from there. If the eyes are wandering or off from center while you are moving, this could produce a disoriented feeling. If you are on a Pilates reformer, a rowing machine, or even doing crunches (in Pilates we do chest lift), it can be helpful to pick one spot to look at rather than letting the eyes be unfocused with the world passing by. That's a little like riding backwards in a car -- not fun.

Just plain old trying too hard can produce all kinds of unwanted symptoms.
An exercise goal for many people is flat abs, but you might be gripping your stomach muscles too tightly, especially in Pilates. Pilates uses a lengthening and deepening of the abdominals toward the spine achieve a deep, scooped out effect in the front of the body. It is important that you balance the effort of your abdominals so that you pull in sides and upper and lower areas equally. If you are tightly gripping just your upper abs or around your stomach, you will not feel good!
Read: How to Pull in Your Abs

A deepening of the abs is key to doing Pilates but along with that, and this is key, there must be a lengthening and expansion of the back of the body. If the back-body doesn't expand as you contract in the front, you won't have room to breathe properly or let your organs work for that matter -- very nauseating. Here is an article that will help with your abdominal scoop:
Finding your C-Curve.

Breathe fully.
Like swimming, weight lifting, and some other types of exercise the Pilates workout co-ordinates the breath with movement. Done properly, this can have a calming and integrative effect, as well as help you avoid feeling unwell from a lack of oxygen. Many people are used to breathing only into the chest. In Pilates, we want to use all of our breathing capacity, and this means a full inhale and exhale that fills out the sides and back as well. This is called, lateral breathing. If you are exercising with the front body bent forward, in flexion, it becomes even more important to direct your breath into the sides and back, and even into the lower back.

It is possible to overwork the breath. Because the breath is somewhat controlled in Pilates, it may be that you are breathing too hard for the amount of exertion you are actually putting out. Teachers may encourage students to exaggerate the breath so much that it could make you dizzy and create the beginnings of hyperventilation. If you are getting overworked with your breath, back off and find a flow that works for you.
">Learn About Breathing and Pilates

My last suggestion is the most important for those of you doing Pilates.
With the increase in Pilates popularity many people are trying to teach themselves or receiving inadequate instruction. It is very important that you get started with a fully educated Pilates Instructor. Most studios offer private sessions. This is a great way to get a good foundation and troubleshoot the reasons for any discomfort you might have.
Read: Top Ways to Learn Pilates
Read: Tips for Choosing Pilates Instructor

Pilates Should Feel Good!

Join the dizziness discussion in the About.com Pilates Forum

Adam: hypotension
About.com, Sports Medicine: Why Do I Get Dizzy When I Stand Up?
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