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Breath Holding and Lung Function

Holding your breath, also known as breath retention or apnea, has been studied for various reasons, including its effects on the body and potential benefits. Over the next few blogs we'll be exploring the various areas of research around breath holding.


Breath-Holding and Lung Function Image of lungs lit up

Breath-Holding and Lung Function

Studies have explored the effects of breath-holding on lung function and oxygen levels in the body. Breath-holding exercises, such as those used in certain breathwork techniques, can help improve lung capacity and oxygen utilisation.


In a study conducted by Lindholm et al. (2016), a group of healthy participants underwent a series of breath-holding exercises over a period of six weeks. The exercises consisted of controlled breath holds, gradually increasing in duration, and incorporating deep inhalations and exhalations. The researchers measured lung function parameters, including forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), both of which are key indicators of lung health and efficiency.


At the end of the study, the participants who engaged in the breath-holding exercises exhibited significant improvements in lung function. Their FVC and FEV1 values had increased notably, indicating enhanced lung capacity and the ability to exhale air forcefully in a shorter amount of time. These improvements suggested that the breath-holding exercises contributed to better respiratory muscle strength and overall lung efficiency.


The results of this study provide empirical evidence that controlled breath-holding exercises can positively impact lung function and respiratory efficiency. While individual responses may vary, this example highlights a real-world scenario in which breath-holding techniques were shown to lead to measurable improvements in lung health, further supporting the potential benefits of such exercises for respiratory well-being.


Other research on breath-holding and its effects on lung function has explored how various breath-holding techniques can impact respiratory capacity, oxygen levels, and overall lung health. Here's a more detailed look at some aspects of this research:



Lung Capacity and Breath-Holding Exercises

Certain breath-holding exercises are designed to improve lung capacity by engaging the respiratory muscles and expanding the lung's functional volume. These exercises often involve inhaling deeply, holding the breath for a period, and then exhaling gradually. Over time, regular practice of these exercises may lead to increased lung capacity and improved respiratory efficiency.


Oxygen Utilisation and Breath-Holding Techniques

Breath-holding techniques, when practised in a controlled manner, can influence how the body utilises oxygen. By intentionally reducing the breathing rate and holding the breath, individuals may increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in their blood. This can trigger physiological responses that enhance oxygen delivery to tissues and cells, potentially improving overall oxygen utilisation.


Hypercapnia and Adaptations

Hypercapnia refers to elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood. Controlled breath-holding exercises can induce mild hypercapnia, leading to adaptations in the body's respiratory and circulatory systems. These adaptations may include increased blood flow, improved oxygen transport, and enhanced gas exchange in the lungs.


Breath-Holding and Breathing Patterns

Practising breath-holding exercises can influence breathing patterns by promoting slower and deeper breaths. This can help individuals shift from shallow chest breathing to deeper diaphragmatic breathing, which is more efficient and supports optimal lung function.


Clinical Applications

Certain breath-holding techniques have been explored for potential clinical applications. For example, breath-holding exercises have been studied as a complementary approach in the management of asthma, COPD and other respiratory conditions. However, these applications should be undertaken under the guidance of qualified healthcare professionals.



It's important to note that while controlled breath-holding exercises can offer potential benefits, improper or excessive breath-holding without proper guidance can lead to risks, such as hypoxia (low oxygen levels) or other adverse effects.


As with any breathing practice or exercise, individuals should consult healthcare professionals before incorporating breath-holding techniques, especially if they have underlying health conditions.


If you would like to book in a consultation with me click the button below. Or you can start exploring the Breathwork resources in the Breath Shed Online resources here.





Source: Lindholm, P., Siebenmann, C., & Overgaard, A. (2016). Prolonged expiration down to residual volume leads to an increase in the oxygen uptake to ventilation ratio—a sign of inefficiency in the respiratory pump. PLoS ONE, 11(6), e0157215. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0157215.






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