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Cold Temperatures = Harder to breathe?

BhimaBhima Posts: 2,145
Question: Does air temperature affect your body's ability to absorb oxygen?

As some of you may know, the nature of my work means I'm up late around the weekends and thus the normal early-morning cycling club schedule is not compatable with my life at all.

However, as i've been up all night I decided to cycle 10 minutes down the road to get a coffee before a proper ride this morning at about 7am and see what all the fuss was about.

Certainly, the air was fresh, there were no cars and there was a blissful silence, but I found myself running out of breath on the way home, during a moderately paced effort out of the saddle. :shock: I'd only been cycling for 15 minutes and this was supposed to be a gentle warmup ride before I got changed and went out "properly"...

It was like someone had turned down the dial on my body labelled "VO2 MAX". It was a total joke and I was freezing my censored off (chest was warm though), so I decided to quit the ride and i'm going out later instead. I've suddenly remembered why I prefer to be more of an evening cyclist.

Anyway, I was properly warmed up by the time I was coming home and felt really inspired by the road conditions, but there was something about the cold that totally killed my breathing. It was definately the cold just zapping away my lung capacity, i'm sure of it...

What was going on? :? It didn't feel like my lungs were freezing over, it felt like the cold made it harder to actually breathe.

And why the heck don't I notice this in the winter?

Posts

  • DomProDomPro Posts: 321
    Maybe having an 'off-day'? Repeat the experiment and see if you feel the same.
    Shazam !!
  • BhimaBhima Posts: 2,145
    Hmm. Possibly. I'm going out shortly so I'll soon find out. Not been on the bike since Saturday though, so it seems a bit odd.
  • Bhima wrote:
    Hmm. Possibly. I'm going out shortly so I'll soon find out. Not been on the bike since Saturday though, so it seems a bit odd.

    Probably the reason right there.
    "A cyclist has nothing to lose but his chain"

    PTP Runner Up 2015
  • freehubfreehub Posts: 4,257
    You know... it could be not resting enough, not allowing enough time to recover, I get the same feeling on some days, finding it harder to get in enough oxygen, not always when it's cold, that does not effect me and I usually work better in the cold.
  • ride_wheneverride_whenever Posts: 13,279
    shouldn't effect it, but you'll be working harder to maintain your body temperature possibly although the exercise should sort that out.

    TBH i find i'm faster in the cold, but I've been a rower/coach for years so i'm fairly used to cold temperature exercise!
  • EscargotEscargot Posts: 361
    Interesting..... Cold air is more dense than hot air but I'm not sure how that affects physical performance.

    I know car engines perform better in the cold due to the air density but that may not mean much at all (given we're not exactly combustion engines!!).

    Having said that there must be similarities as our muscles need a constant supply of oxygen and if the air is more dense then it's not unreasonable to assume that our bodies will benefit from more oxygen (relatively speaking). Efficiency works in similar ways as the demands of cooling to maintain power output is similar. In generating body heat and perspiring we lose fluids to cool down, which then need replacing. Again, if the ambient temperature is low then our bodies have to work less to cool so we should work more efficiently. There must be a limit to this though as 'ride_whenever' suggested that you'll have to work harder to maintain a constant body temp.

    Personally I feel I work better with a slight chill in the air as opposed to sweating profusely in the heat.
  • ride_wheneverride_whenever Posts: 13,279
    On the body temp, when you ride you sweat, colder air means you're having to expend less energy to keep yourself cool, bad point on my part.

    On the density front. You're going to have more O2 in your lungs per breath, but it's about partial pressures so i don't think it'll effect it.
  • pbt150pbt150 Posts: 338
    Bhima - I'm asthmatic and I find very cold dry air quite hard to do vigorous exercise in sometimes. Even if you've not got chest problems the cold can dry out your airways, causing irritation and bronchoconstriction.

    You could try breathing through your nose a bit more - your sinuses are 'designed' to pre-warm air before it hits your lungs.
  • EscargotEscargot Posts: 361
    On the density front. You're going to have more O2 in your lungs per breath, but it's about partial pressures so i don't think it'll effect it.

    Goodness I'm lost now but I guess that's why I'm an engineer and not a coach :wink:
  • prawnyprawny Posts: 5,421
    Maybe it's because you were up all night? just a thought. :P
    Saracen Tenet 3 - 2015 - Dead - Replaced with a Hack Frame
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  • BhimaBhima Posts: 2,145
    freehub wrote:
    You know... it could be not resting enough, not allowing enough time to recover, I get the same feeling on some days, finding it harder to get in enough oxygen, not always when it's cold, that does not effect me and I usually work better in the cold.

    But I said i'd been off the bike since Saturday.

    Couldn't really go all-out today because my body was so tired (mentally) but I did some quick high-cadence bursts which got me so out of breath I was almost passing out. With warmer air, I was able to breath normally again though.

    I do have a history of asthma, although it disappeared about 3 years ago when I started cycling to college and i've not had any issues since.

    I think maybe it was just a bit of a shock to the system - not been out in that temperature since Boxing Day last year. Maybe it's something I get used to in the winter - i'm going out tomorrow morning to see if I can fight it. :twisted:
  • muchallsmuchalls Posts: 87
    could be cold induced bronchospasm: try a couple of puffs of a blue inhaler 20 mins before you venture out
  • andrewjosephandrewjoseph Posts: 2,165
    As muchalis said, the cold air hitting your upper respiratory tract can cause them to go into spasm, which is why hard exercise in really cold weather is not a good idea.

    Shouldn't happen on an August morning though, but if you are a bit run down the effect may be more noticeable.
    --
    Burls Ti Tourer for Tarmac, Saracen aluminium full suss for trails
  • The following applies to asthmatics but the general principals may apply to healthy individuals. But unless you see this regularly I wouldn't worry too much.

    Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction in adults with asthma--comparison between running and cycling and between cycling at different air conditions.Kallings LV, Emtner M, Bäcklund L.
    Department of Medical Sciences, Clinical Physiology, Akadentiska sjukhuset, Uppsala Universitry, Sweden. [email protected]

    The bronchial response to cycling and running was compared in six adult asthmatic persons. The effects of different air conditions during cycling regarding the induction of bronchoconstriction was studied. The exercise consisted of 6 minutes' work at an intensity of 80-85% of maximal heart rate. Heart rate, oxygen consumption and ventilation were measured to check that the exercise level was the same in all tests. Peak expiratory flow (PEF) was used to test for bronchoconstriction. Bicycling and treadmill running were performed under indoor conditions and bicycling while breathing cold, dry air (-18 degrees C) and room-tempered humid air (60% RH), respectively. No difference in bronchoconstriction was found between cycling and running under indoor conditions. However, bicycling exercise with inhalation of cold dry air provoked more bronchoconstriction than when inhalating humid air (PEF reductions of 19.4+/-6% and 6.1+/-2%, respectively). No differences were found between the exercise modes in heart rate, oxygen consumption, ventilation per minute, respiratory rate, carbon dioxide elimination or subjective ratings of perceived exertion and breathlessness. It is concluded that it is not the type of exercise, but the ventilation demand and humidity of the inspired air that are the main determinants of the occurrence and degree of bronchoconstriction.
    No-one wanted to eat Patagonia Toothfish so they renamed it Chilean Sea Bass and now it's in danger of over fishing!
  • EscargotEscargot Posts: 361
    The bronchial response to cycling and running was compared in six adult asthmatic persons.

    It is concluded that it is not the type of exercise, but the ventilation demand and humidity of the inspired air that are the main determinants of the occurrence and degree of bronchoconstriction.

    That makes interesting reading but is it really possible for a medical science department to draw any kind of conclusion from an experiment based on six adults ? This was exactly what I was referring to in another thread about *research* :?

    Those temperatures seem pretty extreme i.e. -18 degrees C, but I'm wondering if it applies at all in Bhima's case given he was out the other morning (probably about 10 degrees C, which isn't even particularly cold).
  • Using an applicable law, the perfect gas law as some know it, density = pressure / (Gas constant for air * Temperature); e.g : 101.3 [kPa] / (0.287 * 288 [K] ) = 1.225 kg/m3

    Therefore lowering air pressure or increasing temperature reduces density. Less density, thinner air, you'll get less oxygen from but it's easier to move out of the way in terms of drag.

    Just if anyone was interested lol.
  • Escargot wrote:
    That makes interesting reading but is it really possible for a medical science department to draw any kind of conclusion from an experiment based on six adults ? This was exactly what I was referring to in another thread about *research* :?

    I completely agree, but sports related research is never done on the same scale as medical research and could never be, due to costs. All of what we believe about how to train, what to eat, when to eat and what to avoid is based on so few subjects that at best they are interesting observations. In addition it usually isn't repeated or duplicated, is rarely double-blinded and the standards for peer-review are poor. So we take what evidence we have and choose whether to apply it or not. In most cases it's not going to make much difference to most of us.
    No-one wanted to eat Patagonia Toothfish so they renamed it Chilean Sea Bass and now it's in danger of over fishing!
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