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Taking a bigger breath does not give you more oxygen

Updated: Mar 25

Meditating in nature

I want to dispel a myth that we need to take bigger breaths to take in more oxygen. 

At rest (at sea level) 21% of the air we inhale is oxygen and 16% of the air we exhale is oxygen. Therefore we have excess oxygen in the lungs. Even during physical exercise, when the muscles need a much greater supply of oxygen, as much as 25 percent of inhaled oxygen is exhaled. Therefore, taking a bigger breath does not increase oxygen in the lungs.

The issue is not getting oxygen into the lungs it is getting the blood cells to release the oxygen to our cells. 

Oxygen doesn’t dissolve very well in blood, so it is attached to haemoglobin in our red blood cells. When an oxygen saturation probe reads 98% it means 98% oxygen is on the red blood cells and 2% is dissolved in the blood. What you want is to increase the rate at which haemoglobin in the red blood cells releases oxygen to the cells. How do you do that….carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide in the environment causes global warming but, in our body, it helps release oxygen to the tissues. We all have a personal tolerance to carbon dioxide in the chemoreceptors in the breathing centre in the brain. When we hit our personal tolerance the body sends an involuntary muscle contraction to breathe (commonly felt in the neck or diaphragm) and a feeling of air hunger (suffocation). 

As you become less sensitive to carbon dioxide your haemoglobin will release oxygen more easily to your cells and breathing becomes slower and gentler which can lead to improved sleep:

'I am already sleeping better, feel more refreshed when I wake and have way more energy during the day'

In addition, you will feel less breathless, and exercise becomes easier. Carbon dioxide also opens up blood vessels therefore improving circulation in the body:

'I can now skip continuously for 8 minutes whilst nasal breathing. Two months ago, I would have needed to stop frequently due to air hunger'

Breathing more slowly due to increased carbon dioxide tolerance increases the likelihood an individual will breathe with the diaphragm and therefore strengthen the nerve which controls the relaxation (parasympathetic response) which can help improve mental health:

'I’m calmer, relaxed and more creative. I am no longer at the top of my tree even when something arrives to shake me up a bit.'

If you would like to assess your carbon dioxide tolerance, please watch the video 'how to assess breathing efficiency' on my YouTube channel drlouiseolivertlc

If you would like me to help you improve your carbon dioxide tolerance consider joining one of my breathing re-education programmes:


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