When it comes to intense activity, it’s hard to tell if the symptoms you’re experiencing are normal or not. Admittedly, there are a few unpleasant effects of exercise, such as sweating and muscle aches, that are considered to be normal. Related: What Is the Difference Between "Good Pain" and "Bad Pain" When Working Out? Other symptoms, like feeling dizzy after a workout or lightheaded while exercising, may be cause for concern.
In truth, dizziness can be one of the trickiest symptoms to diagnose since it can be caused by several things, both worrisome and otherwise. In order to get to the bottom of why you’re experiencing post-workout dizziness, it's important to understand the different types of dizziness and their potential causes.
Types of Post-Workout Dizziness
Here are two types of dizziness you might experience either during or after a workout:
After an intense workout, you may find yourself slightly lightheaded, especially if your workout consisted of jumping, sprinting, or quick movements. That being said, even people who do moderate-intensity exercise can find themselves feeling lightheaded or faint. It’s also common to feel unbalanced or unsteady on your feet.
Lightheadedness with exercise is usually not a major issue. This type of dizziness will most likely go away after sitting down for a few minutes and drinking slow sips of water.
Vertigo is a form of dizziness that usually includes a spinning sensation. You may feel as if your surroundings are spinning around you, or you could feel like you’re swaying from side to side. If the vertigo is severe enough, then you may feel nauseous, as if you are about to throw up.
While lightheadedness is not unusual with high-intensity exercise, vertigo can be a symptom of something more serious. If vertigo is felt in combination with other signs, like changes in speech, vision, confusion, or problems standing, then immediate medical attention is warranted.
Common Causes of Post-Workout Dizziness
Now that you’re familiar with the two types of dizziness, let’s explore common causes of post-workout dizziness and what you should do if you experience them.
1. Dizziness caused by the workout
Dizziness can result from the workout itself, particularly if you’ve exercised hard enough for a long period of time. This can cause hyperventilation and lightheadedness.
Resolve this type of dizziness by performing a low intensity cooldown after the workout. Then, have a seat for a few minutes while you slowly sip a drink with electrolytes to avoid dehydration.
2. Dizziness caused by lifestyle factors or changes to your lifestyle, including:
- Your eating and drinking habits
- Any recreational drugs and/or alcohol consumption
- Prescription medications, supplements, or vitamins
- Sleep patterns
Chances are, dizziness during exercise from one (or any) of these factors is exacerbated by physical activity due to the changes in the body that occur when working out. Take caution and avoid intense workouts the day after you’ve been out with friends or had a poor night’s sleep. Conversely, plan ahead and eat well before high intensity or endurance workouts. For dizziness that may be a side effect of medications, check with your doctor or pharmacist for further recommendations.
3. Dizziness caused by dehydration
If you’re feeling dizzy, nauseous, and lightheaded, then these may be symptoms of dehydration.
Staying hydrated during your workout is only part of the solution. Are you aware that you also need to be hydrated before you even begin the workout? Working out in a hypohydrated (less than optimal) state increases your risk for dehydration and its related side effects. This is one of the reasons why working out after a night of drinking isn’t a great idea, since you’re already in a hypohydrated state.
Related: Learn more about the many residual benefits to being properly hydrated.
4. Dizziness caused by low blood sugar
Low levels of sugar in your bloodstream, known as hypoglycemia, can lead to feeling slow, sluggish, shaky, weak, or nauseous. Although hypoglycemia is usually associated with diabetes, it can be experienced by those without that diagnosis as well. If that happens, then factors like outside temperature, altitude, or nutrition may be to blame.
5. Other potential causes of dizziness
Lightheadedness can be exacerbated by sinus infections, colds or viruses, seasonal allergies, or stress and anxiety.
Short-term lightheadedness can also be felt during quick changes in body position, which is a condition known as orthostatic hypotension.
When Should You Be Concerned About Post-Workout Dizziness?
In general, you should always tell your doctor about changes to your health, including dizziness that is associated with exercise. If you’re experiencing frequent bouts of dizziness, then track the days on a calendar and take notes of your symptoms. As mentioned above, specific symptoms can be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs medical attention.
Dizziness with light intensity exercise is not normal. Make an appointment to see your doctor as it is possible that you may be experiencing an underlying medical condition, such as exercise-induced asthma. Although exercise-induced asthma is generally associated with shortness of breath and chest tightness, mild symptoms (like lightheadedness) may go undetected. Dizziness with light intensity exercise may also be a sign of an underlying heart problem, specifically an arrhythmia which can be caused by a structural problem with the heart, disease, or even an electrolyte imbalance. What’s frightening is that exercise may be the only time you get symptoms if you have an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia.
Things to Remember About Post-Workout Dizziness
Although dizziness may be a sign that you’re dehydrated, it could also be that you’re overdoing it. It’s great to push yourself to meet your workout goals, but it’s not wise to go so hard that your head spins.
The two main types of post-workout dizziness are vertigo and lightheadedness. Each has several different potential causes, so it’s important to take note when you feel it and discuss with your doctor.
Whereas some types of dizziness can be managed on your own, others require medical attention from your general practitioner or even a specialist. Sometimes, dizziness can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition that needs immediate attention. Please take your symptoms seriously as this can require treatment, medication, or even surgery.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.
Written for Fitness Blender by Kayla Covert, PT, DPT
Board-Certified Neurological Clinical Specialist