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If you’ve ever gotten a head rush while lifting a heavy weight or had your vision go cloudy at the top of a steep hill, you know: Getting dizzy from exercise can be scary. It’s also potentially dangerous. What’s a dedicated weight-loss warrior to do: power through or take this as a sign that your body isn’t ready for this particular workout?
If the room starts to spin or you get woozy during a workout, there are a variety of factors that could be to blame. If you’re brand new to exercise and healthy eating, it’s possible that you’re not eating enough to sustain your new levels of activity. Be sure to readjust your calorie intake to account for additional exercise before you plan your meals for the day. Aside from blood sugar or dehydration, sometimes, you really do just get up too fast. It’s a condition called “orthostatic hypotension,” where your blood pressure drops quickly when you stand up too fast.
While such a head rush could be just a one-time thing, it could also be indicative of a real blood pressure issue, or another cardiac or circulatory issue, says Jessica DeLuise, a certified physician’s assistant and founder of Eat Your Way to Wellness. You may also have an electrolyte imbalance, she says. Electrolytes are minerals that help regulate the body’s systems. Potassium, in particular, helps your heart function correctly, and, according to a 2013 article, as many as 98 percent of Americans don’t get enough. Getting more potassium from fruits like bananas and cantaloupe can reduce your risk of stroke and diabetes, as well.
If the room is spinning or it feels like you’re spinning, you’re likely experiencing a specific type of dizziness called vertigo, Vanessa Rothholtz, M.D, an otolaryngologist at Pacific Coast Ear, Nose and Throat in California, says. It’s caused when the fluids and particles in your ear canals get out of whack. For exercisers, vertigo is sometimes experienced when lying on the back while lifting weights or performing yoga or Pilates workouts, she says.
“It’s called ‘positional vertigo’ [and] it usually happens while lying flat, and the neck is slightly extended,” Rothholtz explains. When experiencing positional vertigo, the room will start to spin severely when you’re in this supine position. Fortunately, she says, ear, nose and throat specialists like herself can treat this condition with a simple procedure called an “Epley maneuver.”
“The doctor puts your body in various positions […] this gets the crystals or particles back in the right place,” she says. The Epley maneuver can stop positional vertigo in one or two treatments, though the condition may come back.
First: stop. Don’t continue exercising while you’re experiencing these symptoms. Oftentimes, people feel a need to push their bodies past their comfort zone while exercising, but if you’re feeling dizzy, your body is trying to tell you something is wrong. This feeling isn’t the same as your run-of-the-mill discomfort from lifting a heavy weight or running a sprint.
“Stop the equipment that you’re on. Drop your weights,” Rothholtz advises. Dizziness is often coupled with a feeling that you might pass out, which could lead to head or body injuries. You don’t want to fall or pass out while on a machine or while holding a heavy dumbbell, so stop the exercise and sit down, Rothholtz says. Then, tell someone.
“Most of us don’t work out with a personal trainer or buddy, but you want to make sure—even if you’re by yourself walking in your neighborhood—that you let somebody know [that you’re experiencing dizziness,],” she advises. Rothholtz says this isn’t to make something seem too urgent or scary, but so if you do faint, people know where you are and what’s happening.
Once you’ve involved someone else, drink some water, says DeLuise. Dizziness can often be caused by dehydration. Another potential cause: A dip in blood sugar.
“Have something with glucose in it; that could be [an energy bar] they have at the gym or a piece of fruit,” she says. Once you’ve had some water and maybe something small to eat, reassess how you’re feeling. It’s important to listen to your body’s cues to avoid injury, so be sure to give it the attention that it deserves.
Once you’ve stopped your exercise, made sure you’re safe and gotten some water, reassess how you’re feeling. If your dizziness was accompanied by chest pain, difficulty breathing or if you also had any neurological issues—like numbness or difficulty speaking—call 911, Rothholtz recommends.
If you’re not experiencing these more severe symptoms, DeLuise says, it’s still a good idea to see or call a doctor. “It’s easy enough to go into a walk-in clinic to get your blood pressure checked,” she says. At the very least, call your primary care doctor to let them know this happened and to get their recommendations.
Rothholtz agrees: “I would never assume it’s nothing. It’s probably nothing severe, but you need to be safe,” she says. “Make sure it’s not blood pressure, anemia, some type of carotid artery blockage or a neurological issue.”