At some point in our lives, we have all faced that much-dreaded head-spinning sensation coupled with clamminess and extreme weakness after standing up too quickly from a seated position. Most of these are common symptoms that we associate with dehydration, sleep deprivation, or even fluctuating blood sugar levels. But if you find your body giving out such signals far too often, especially each time you stand – it could be a sign that you’re suffering from orthostatic intolerance.
These are not very pleasant symptoms to experience, especially if you’re someone whose day is choc-a-bloc with household chores, work deadlines, and personal commitments. Strangely enough, the solution lies in exercise – something that you’re least likely to want to do, especially if you experience frequent bouts of orthostatic intolerance.
Before we explain this paradox, let’s first talk a little bit about the condition itself.
What Is Orthostatic Intolerance?
Typically a condition characterized by symptoms like dizziness and fatigue that occur while standing but stop as soon as one sits or lies down, orthostatic intolerance signifies a chronic energy deficit.
The modern-day lifestyle puts our bodies through undue stress that crops in a variety of forms, and our bodies are often unable to produce enough energy to counter this stress. So when we are under way too much pressure but suddenly decide to get up and start moving, our blood pressure takes a sudden nosedive, when it should really be rising.
When this happens, you experience body aches, extreme weakness, and a very foggy brain.
How Can Exercise Help?
The idea of exercising to treat orthostatic intolerance is almost insulting, especially when you are highly symptomatic. For such people, exercising can feel like an impossible task because the fatigue can be so excruciating and is often accompanied by an unceasing heaviness and pain in the body.
However, studies show that even if it may be the last thing you want to do, engaging in the right kind of exercise routine can significantly improve orthostatic tolerance by limiting venous pooling and increasing overall blood plasma volume. 1 2
How To Use Exercise To Treat Orthostatic Intolerance
It is important to note that while exercise can improve symptoms of orthostatic tolerance, it may actually worsen the condition if you’re someone who has pretty much led a sedentary lifestyle all throughout.3
Therefore, always be sure to discuss your exercise regimen in detail with your physician before you start, to ensure it is completely safe for you. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind while exercising to improve orthostatic tolerance.
- Avoid upright exercises: Upright exercise may increase the orthostatic drop in blood pressure. Hence, training in a supine or sitting position (eg, swimming, recumbent biking) is advisable, especially when you’re starting off.
- Light weight-lifting is recommended: Isotonic exercises like light weight-lifting are better options than isometric exercises like holding weights in the same position. This is because unlike isometric exercises, isotonic exercises leave no room for incorrect straining and breath-holding, which could decrease venous return (rate of blood flow back to the heart).
- Build up the number of minutes spent exercising very slowly: Many people with orthostatic intolerance have exercise intolerance. So start off slow and increase your time steadily to get the best out of your exercise regime. For instance, you could start with five minutes each day for the first five days, and then start adding an extra minute to your workout per day. Eventually, you want to extend your workout to up to 30 minutes per day.
- Drink lots of salt-water while exercising: Exercising leads to sweating, which in turn, causes your body to lose salt. When you get thirsty, it’s a sign that you need to replenish the lost salt. Drinking salt-water throughout your workout will keep your electrolytes balanced, which will help reduce orthostatic intolerance symptoms like dizziness and fatigue. This way, you can get the best out of your workout.
|↑1||Winker, Robert, Alfred Barth, Daniela Bidmon, Ivo Ponocny, Michael Weber, Otmar Mayr, David Robertson et al. “Endurance exercise training in orthostatic intolerance.” Hypertension 45, no. 3 (2005): 391-398.|
|↑2||Figueroa, Juan J., Jeffrey R. Basford, and Phillip A. Low. “Preventing and treating orthostatic hypotension: as easy as A, B, C.” Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine 77, no. 5 (2010): 298.|
|↑3||Bonnin, Philippe, Ahmed Ben Driss, Joelle Benessiano, Anne Pavy Le Traon, Alain Maillet, and Bernard I. Levy. “Enhanced flow-dependent vasodilatation after bed rest, a possible mechanism for orthostatic intolerance in humans.” European journal of applied physiology 85, no. 5 (2001): 420-426.|