What it means when you yawn during your workout

Yawning during your workouts? It's actually a common occurrence, and it doesn't necessarily mean you're tired or bored. An article in The New Yorker documents people yawning in all kinds of physically intensive situations, like preparing to jump from an airplane or getting ready for an Olympic event. But what does it mean, what triggers it, and is it anything to be worried about?

Yawning is a reflex of the central nervous system, and, as a reflex, is largely outside of our control (via LIVESTRONG). As a neurological process, yawning triggers the release of oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, nitric oxide, and glutamate — basically, every feel-good chemical the brain has on tap (via Elephant Journal). Similar to caffeine, yawning can also trigger arousal in the brain, functioning as a stimulant by releasing catecholamines. This effect, observed in a meta-analysis in the International Journal of Applied & Basic Medical Research, also confirms the "contagious" nature of yawning, attributing it to a socially empathic response.

Why do I yawn when I'm working out?

A common belief is that athletes yawn when they're working out to boost oxygen intake, a myth that persists even though it was debunked in a 1987 study (Behavioral and Neural Biology). Yawning does increase blood flow to the brain, though. Increased blood flow to the brain can help improve memory, focus, transport glucose and oxygen, and keep you more alert (via Healthline).

During intense exercise, yawning also helps to regulate the temperature of the body and brain. Studies conducted in both humans and animals support the theory that yawning lowers the temperature of the brain (via WebMD). This effect is exaggerated in cold weather. Combined with its ability to boost your blood pressure and heart rate, all while decreasing the stress response, it makes sense that a really good workout would set off a yawn or two.

If your yawning is excessive, and you're sure you're not just tired, an underlying condition may be to blame. According to Prevention, yawning can be triggered by anti-depressant medication or by an undiagnosed vasovagal condition. If anything doesn't feel right, or your yawning is accompanied by dizziness, visit a doctor.