Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!
Finding the best heart rate for exercise is easy: subtract your age from 180. The result is the maximum your body can withstand to stay in the aerobic state. Long bouts of training and exercise can happen below this rate but never above it, otherwise the body will risk going too deep into the anaerobic zone for too long. Instead of feeling invigorated and strong after a workout, you’d feel tired, shaky, and nauseated.
Any regular practice that stretches the lungs and keeps them flexible can retain or increase lung capacity. Moderate exercise like walking or cycling has been shown to boost lung size by up to 15 percent.
Did it matter if we breathed at a rate of six or five seconds, or were a half second off? It did not, as long as the breaths were in the range of 5.5. “We believe that the rosary may have partly evolved because it synchronized with the inherent cardiovascular (Mayer) rhythms, and thus gave a feeling of wellbeing, and perhaps an increased responsiveness to the religious message,” the Pavia researchers wrote. In other words, the meditations, Ave Marias, and dozens of other prayers that had been developed over the past several thousand years weren’t all baseless. Prayer heals, especially when it’s practiced at 5.5 breaths a minute.
The key to optimum breathing, and all the health, endurance, and longevity benefits that come with it, is to practice fewer inhales and exhales in a smaller volume. To breathe, but to breathe less.
Each breath we draw in should take about three seconds, and each breath out should take four. We’ll then continue the same short inhales while lengthening the exhales to a five, six, and seven count as the run progresses. Slower, longer exhales, of course, mean higher carbon dioxide levels. With that bonus carbon dioxide, we gain a higher aerobic endurance. This measurement of highest oxygen consumption, called VO2 max, is the best gauge of cardiorespiratory fitness. Training the body to breathe less actually increases VO2 max, which can not only boost athletic stamina but also help us live longer and healthier lives.
“The yogi’s life is not measured by the number of his days, but the number of his breaths,” wrote B. K. S. Iyengar, an Indian yoga teacher who had spent years in bed as a sickly child until he learned yoga and breathed himself back to health. He died in 2014, at age 95. I’d hear this repeated over and over again by Olsson during our early Skype chats and again throughout the Stanford experiment. I’d read about it in Stough’s research. Buteyko and the Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, and 9/11 survivors were aware of it as well. By various means, in various ways, in various eras of human history, all these pulmonauts discovered the same thing. They discovered that the optimum amount of air we should take in at rest per minute is 5.5 liters. The optimum breathing rate is about 5.5 breaths per minute. That’s 5.5-second inhales and 5.5-second exhales. This is the perfect breath. Asthmatics, emphysemics, Olympians, and almost anyone, anywhere, can benefit from breathing this way for even a few minutes a day, much longer if possible: to inhale and exhale in a way that feeds our bodies just the right amount of air, at just the right time, to perform at peak capacity. To just keep breathing, less.