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Winter Running Woe: Burning Lungs

Temps across the country are plummeting, but a little cold (or even snow) won't keep die-hard runners indoors. Layering up with wicking clothes is the key to staying warm and dry while sweating it out, but what about breathing in that frigid air? It's not only painful to inhale, but since the air is often dry, it causes your airways to narrow, making it harder to breathe.

If running in the cold makes your lungs burn or causes you to cough, try this simple solution: wear a moisture-wicking neck warmer, like this Smartwool Neck Gaiter ($25), over your mouth. It'll not only keep cool air off your neck, but the gaiter also traps the natural water vapor you exhale, making the air you inhale moist and a bit warmer, which is easier on your lungs. A regular scarf could also work, but who wants to wrestle with slowly unraveling loose ends, especially on a windy day? Another benefit is that a neck warmer can be lowered below your chin or easily slipped off, bunched up, and stored in your pocket after you warm up, while a scarf is much too bulky.

When temps dip really low, you'll probably prefer a balaclava that covers your nose, mouth, ears, and head. It may look a little scary, but at least you'll be warm and comfortable. Plus it's a great option whether you breathe through your nose or mouth, although you might find breathing through your nose may ease the burning in your lungs — just bring along tissues in case your nose runs.

Keep reading to find out other ways to relieve your burning lungs.

Running in cold weather should become easier with time, but you can help acclimate your lungs to brisk temperatures by starting off nice and easy. Run shorter distances, on flatter terrain, and at a slower pace to keep from huffing and puffing. Concentrate on breathing steadily and evenly, without forcing the air in and out of your lungs, which can cause more irritation. Be flexible with your running schedule and run during the warmest time of the day, which tends to be midday when the sun is high in the sky.

Cold weather can also be a trigger for asthma sufferers, so if these tips don't help, talk to your doctor. Medication can do wonders, but if you're not into that, a Winter gym membership is also an option. Run outdoors when the cold weather is bearable, but know your lungs' limits so you can hit the gym's treadmill when temperatures are too low.

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Join The Conversation
inlove23 inlove23 5 years
I love the scarf idea I never thought about it! It kills my lungs too, and I guess I clench my teeth (I don't realize until afterwards) so it's double. I'm going running tomorrow so hopefully it'll work out!
Beaner Beaner 6 years
I also think it takes some time for your lungs to get used to the cold. The first couple weeks I run in the cold always hurt my lungs. I just take it easier, run slower so I'm not breathing heavy, and then soon it feels much better. Stick with it is my advice!
pretty-1 pretty-1 6 years
I ran track and field in college and one of the hardest things was racing indoors because the winter air inside was so dry and caused my lungs/throat to burn. I started chewing gum during indoor track meets and it really helped increase the moisture in my mouth (obviously), which in turn helped with the burning throat/lung problem. Some sport drink companies make "hydrating" chewing gum now so you could kill two birds with one stone!
chloe-bella chloe-bella 6 years
My lungs only burn if I get winded while running. The solution for me is to run longer distances outside at a comfortable, conversational pace and then to save the shorter speed sessions for the indoor track at my gym.
TidalWave TidalWave 6 years
the cold weather definitely flares up my exercise induced asthma. i just have to remind myself that i'm not going to suffocate, though the wheezing is very uncomfortable.
hausfrau hausfrau 6 years
this is why i hate running in the cold. i tend to wheeze for the rest of the day and hack... sooo attractive. :)
michlny michlny 6 years
Bringing tissues is a GREAT reminder! I always forget and boy does my nose get runny in the cold.....makes it tough to breathe through my nose!!
missyd missyd 6 years
Like the scarf tip. who knew?
babysugar babysugar 6 years
Great tips. Now I have no excuses. :(
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