Remember when you and your friends would compete to see who could hold their breath the longest at the pool? (You’d lie face down in the dead-man’s float position, a nervous judge counting the seconds 'til the last sputtering head bobbed up?) A new book, The Oxygen Advantage by “breathing expert” Patrick McKeown, claims a similar exercise is the key to determining the quality of your health: If you can hold your breath for more than 40 seconds without straining, you’re in pretty good shape—but any number under that means you should start practicing breathing exercises.
McKeown’s explanation is this: Being comfortable without air for up to 40 seconds signifies that your carbon-dioxide levels are healthy (because it indicates your body isn’t trying to eliminate the CO2 so quickly). A sufficient carbon-dioxide amount suggests that your body is functioning optimally. However, when you “overbreathe”, receptors in your brain become “overly sensitive” and make you exhale, sigh or gasp for air to get rid of the excess CO2. McKeown claims all this extra breathing is the root cause of many health conditions, such as insomnia, anxiety and obesity, and can limit your body's ability to deliver oxygen to your organs and muscles.
Ultimately, McKeown believes by helping your body maintain an optimal level of CO2, you can help all your body’s systems work better, and that the key to combating overbreathing is by consistently breathing through the nose rather than the mouth, whether you’re doing cardio or sleeping. (Check out McKeown’s step-by-step breathing test here.)
McKeown’s claims aside, it never hurts to pay more attention to your breath—so regardless of how skeptical you may be about his breathing test, try yoga or even a simple beginner’s meditation course which, according to numerous studies, have been shown to lower stress levels and blood pressure. But if you’re waiting for confirmation from some bona-fide scientists that this technique the key to staying young and full of life, don’t hold your breath.
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