Today we’re talking about the compelling science behind breathing more minimally, the benefits of nasal breathing, and how to improve CO2 tolerance.
One common flawed notion is that we want to breathe in as much oxygen as possible, in order for our bodies to take in as much oxygen as possible. But, as you’ll learn in today’s show, unless you are in the hospital with a serious disease or condition, we all have plenty of oxygen in our bloodstream. You’ll also learn why having a low CO2 tolerance indicates that your body is doing a poor job of delivering oxygen to the working muscles that need it.
The starting point of nasal parasympathetic breathing is to breathe as minimally as possible, through your nose only at all times, day and night for the rest of your life, except when you desperately need more air during intense exercise. Simple as that! One of the major inspirations for this show comes from my recent interest in The Oxygen Advantage: The Simple, Scientifically Proven Breathing Techniques for a Healthier, Slimmer, Faster, and Fitter You by Patrick McKeown, and in this episode, I’m sharing my top takeaways from his book, such as that the blood already has enough oxygen, taking bigger breaths will do little to increase oxygen in the blood, and oxygen release (from blood to tissues and organs) depends on carbon dioxide levels. Another major takeaway is that breathing more lightly increases carbon dioxide levels in the blood – and this actually improves oxygenation.
I also talk about the simplest way to benefit from this book, which is to continually nasal breathe, wear tape over the mouth, both at night and during light aerobic training (to ensure nasal breathing), and routinely perform breath hold exercises (after an exhalation) for progressively longer times during walking or light activity. To learn more about nasal breathing, breath hold exercises, and how to simulate high-altitude training, check out The Oxygen Advantage here.
We often overlook the importance of proper breathing. Breathe minimally through the nose. [01:26]
The more carbon dioxide we can tolerate, the better oxygen is delivered to the working muscles in the body. [04:34]
We have plenty of oxygen already. [06:53]
Breathing more lightly increases carbon dioxide levels in the blood, improving your oxygenation potential. [10:55]
Breathe through your nose only. Take the BOLT test. [12:19]
Even gentle snoring is indicative of mouth breathing. Tape your mouth closed to train yourself. [18:50]
Generally, one nostril dominates the other throughout the day. Be aware of your sleep position. [21:05]
- Brad’s Shopping page
- Podcast with Brian MacKenzie
- The Oxygen Advantage
- BOLT Test (Body Oxygen Level Test)
- BOHR effect
- Breathe Right Nasal Strip
- Shift Adapt (Performance Starts with Your Breath)
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Brad (1m 27s): Okay. In spired by my show with Brian MacKenzie, talking about the cutting edge of breathing for athletic performance and also the excellent book, The Oxygen Advantage written by Patrick McKeown. You can go look at some clips on YouTube with Patrick McKeown or grab the book. And he provides a really simple and clear approach to improving your breathing technique, minimizing your overall life stress levels, and everything is so incredibly simplified that I think it’s really something we can all embrace. We can implement right away to our great benefit. I have been ignoring this subject for so long, cause I feel like my plate’s already full. Brad (2m 9s): I’m already learning about flexibility, mobility, fitness, explosive training, endurance training, a healthy diet, eating, stress management. And then you see a Wim Hoff on YouTube doing his amazing feats of swimming under the ice, or staying in cold water for incredible amounts of time or climbing up to the high ground of Mount Everest with no shirt on and crazy stuff like that with his breathing protocol. And I haven’t really been, become a deep enthusiast just due to time and other areas of focus. But when you get into The Oxygen Advantage and even in the early pages, the early set up here is to say, look, all we need to do here is to minimize our breathing at all times for the rest of our life. Brad (2m 52s): So as breathe, breathe as minimally as possible, always through your nose for the rest of your life, boom, the end life changing advice. Now when we’re engaged in athletic performance and we have to demand a lot from the muscles and cardiovascular system, we’re going to have to open our mouth and pull in more air, but that’s the only time that you really need to breathe through your mouth. So if this starting point, if you can get this takeaway that you’re going to be breathing through your nose with your mouth closed, that stimulates parasympathetic rest and digest nervous system function, as opposed to the more typical approach here in modern life of taking shallow panting breaths, using our open mouth sucking in way more oxygen than we need minimizing our tolerance for carbon dioxide, thereby becoming more dependent on these shallow panting stress producing stress provoking breaths. Brad (3m 47s): So when you take shallow panting breasts through your mouth, you are emphasizing the upper lungs with a kind of kind of a half breath without fully engaging the wonderful diaphragm muscle that requires a deep draw to expand the abdomen and allow the diaphragm to do its thing. And when you take a deep diaphragmatic breath, guess what you activate or you utilize the oxygen rich, lower lobes of the lungs, where all the alveoli is, and you have a better exchange of oxygen to carbon dioxide. So a vastly more efficient breath. But a couple of things that I really wasn’t aware of knowing, knowing about this deep breathing for a long time when you’re in a yoga class, when you’re doing meditation, but actually the idea that you want to breathe minimally in concert with breathing through your nose and engaging the diaphragm. Brad (4m 35s): That was an exciting new one for me. So when we breathe just to our minimum need, what happens is we improve our tolerance for carbon dioxide and the more carbon dioxide we can tolerate, the better oxygen is delivered to the working muscles in the body. So the oxygen will offload from the hemoglobin, the red blood cell that carries oxygen. It will offload more efficiently when you improve your carbon dioxide tolerance by breathing minimally, both during exercise and throughout daily life. And there’s a very common test known as the BOLT test. There’s another one called the sustained exhale test that Brian MacKenzie prefers. Brad (5m 18s): I’m going to talk about both of them. So you can have a starting point here and it’s really fun to see just how much you may suck right now. But if you keep at it and make a little bit of an effort to breathe minimally through your nose at all times, you are going to improve your BOLT score and your exhale test significantly in a very short time. I’ll describe those tests shortly, but I want to get this really simple entry point emphasized. So if the host here is urging you to breathe minimally through your nose, only for the rest of your life, take as little breath as you need, and that’s going to improve your CO2 tolerance and your oxygen delivery. Brad (6m 4s): I think the common flawed notion is that we want to take in as much oxygen as possible to give our body as much oxygen, especially when we’re exercising and we need more oxygen. And we see the football player on the sideline putting an oxygen mask up so they can get even more oxygen. Cause they’re out of oxygen. That’s actually a misconception for the most part, unless we’re in a hospital with serious disease condition, we have plenty of oxygen in our bloodstream. You know, those little pulse oximeters that you can put onto your ring finger and it’ll test your oxygen saturation level in a glimpse. The nurses carry it in the hospital and they put it on the patient to make sure their oxygen isn’t dropping due to again, a serious disease condition, a post-surgical patient, whoever they’re worried about. Brad (6m 53s): But most of us walking around we’ll have an oxygen saturation. That’s up near 100%. You might see a 96 and 97, 98, 99. If you’re at high altitude, your number might go down to 94, 95, 96 because there’s less oxygen up at high altitude. And that’s a desired adaptation to high altitude as, as a matter of fact. So the concept here to appreciate is that plenty of oxygen already, if we try to suck down a bigger breath to increase oxygen, what we’re going to do is for the most part, exhale, a huge percentage of the extra oxygen. We already exhale a lot of oxygen that we breathe in anyway. Brad (7m 35s): So it’s kind of just an exchange might not be a bad thing, but it’s just emphasizing this point that we have plenty of blood oxygen saturation already. Here’s a quote from McKeown in the book, The Oxygen Advantage. “It is physiologically impossible to increase the oxygen saturation of the blood by taking bigger breaths because the blood is almost always already fully saturated. It would be like pouring more water into a glass that’s already filled to the brim.” Okay. So if we have enough oxygen, we don’t need to breed in more. Except of course, when we’re pushing really hard at our physical limits sprinting or doing something that’s requiring maximum demand, then of course we’re going to be pulling in as much oxygen as we can possibly process. Brad (8m 25s): That’s what VO two max score is for you athletes out there. That’s the maximum amount of oxygen you can consume per liter, per kilogram of body weight while exercising at a peak peak levels. And it’s a way to measure a fitness potential. So anyway, back to the focus here, if we already have enough oxygen, then what is going on here? Why are we trying to suck down more? It’s all about our tolerance for carbon dioxide. So if we have a low tolerance for carbon dioxide, we are going to want to exhale it quickly and inhale more oxygen than we need. This is going to reduce our all important carbon dioxide tolerance. Brad (9m 12s): Because when you have low carbon dioxide tolerance, you are doing a poor job of delivering oxygen to the working muscles that need it. And you feel like gasping for air, needing more oxygen, but it’s actually what you need is more carbon dioxide tolerance. So all the urge to breathing is dictated by carbon dioxide tolerance rather than oxygen sensitivity. We do a much better job being, being highly sensitive in the brain to the, the need to take a breath. So if you hold your breath for a little bit and you finally give up and have to take a breath, that’s due to your carbon dioxide sensitivity, and that’s what the, the BOLT Test and the exhale test measures. Brad (9m 57s): So the goal here of breathing minimally through the nose only for the rest of our life and trying to breathe through the nose as much as possible during exercise is to improve carbon dioxide tolerance. Because when you can tolerate more higher levels of carbon dioxide, guess what happens? The red blood cells do a better job of delivering oxygen. So you improve your oxygen delivery to the working muscles and organs and tissues and everything that needs oxygen. When your carbon dioxide tolerance is strong. If you paid attention in science and biology class back in high school or college, which I did not, you might be familiar with something called the Bohr effect, B O H R and the Bohr effect dictates that carbon dioxide is the key variable that allows the release of oxygen from the red blood cells to be metabolized by the body as it loosens the bond between hemoglobin and oxygen. Brad (10m 56s): So it’s offloading oxygen from the red blood cells to the muscles, organs and tissues in the body, the Bohr effect B O H R. So we want to optimize the Bohr effect so that we get really good at delivering oxygen throughout the body. Breathing more lightly increases carbon dioxide levels in the blood, improving your oxygenation potential. So the goal of getting rid of this silly over-breathing that only humans do, and I’ve heard some great podcasts, I believe on the shift perspective channel with Brian MacKenzie, that they’re referencing even the cheetah running at 80 miles an hour is breathing through their nose only. Brad (11m 37s): So all of our brethren in the animal kingdom routinely breathe through their nose only even when they’re performing at high level, look at the photo of the Kentucky Derby and the, the, the doping horses. That’s the only reason I paid attention to horse racing like, wow, look at this story, but the horses mouths closed and they’re breathing through those giant nostril sucking in air. So only when an animal is sick, are they breathing through their mouth or in a dog’s case, they’re panting with their tongue out too, as part of their cooling mechanism. But for the most part, nose breathing is the default. And it has been for human history until all these modern influences. So you can look at the hunter gatherers, they’re breathing through their nose only for the most part. Brad (12m 20s): Interesting science. When you get into some of these books that cover the subject in more detail, but again, this is the simplified instruction for how to improve your breathing. So we want to breathe, minimally improve our carbon dioxide tolerance, build up of more carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. No problem, no discomfort. And then this prompts through the Bohr effect. It prompts the red blood cells to offload more oxygen. Okay, thanks for bearing with me to this point. And now let’s talk about these tests, which were a huge eye opener to me because my score sucked out of the gate. And I surmised that part of that was all my athletic training, my whole life, where I’ve freely taken huge, gigantic breaths through my mouth, thinking this was the way to go. Brad (13m 7s): And boy, I’m trying to reverse course here and breathe through my nose. Only, even when I’m doing some high intensity stuff has been a real awakening. It’s difficult. It’s a little frustrating. It’s kind of a hassle. You got the snot blowing around and you really wish you could just open your mouth and suck down some air and you do so when you really need to. But my goal here is, for example, if I’m doing the running drills that you can see on YouTube and they take 10 to 20 seconds, I will breathe through my nose through for the duration of a very difficult drill. Then I’ll be breathing really hard afterward and have to catch my breath. And it might be two deep breaths through my mouth or three. And then I’m back to nose breathing and I’m jogging. Brad (13m 49s): I’m, I’m recovering and I’m going into another high intensity, brief burst of exercise. And then I’ll take whatever breaths I need, but it’s the goal of minimizing your breathing that can unlock the key to improve performance as well as a less stressful workout and a less stressful day. So when you’re puttering about the office or even working on your computer, I noticed times when I get kind of worked up and I start mouth breathing rather than having these nice, slow, relaxed diaphragmatic breaths. So I’ve said deep diaphragmatic breaths in books and on podcasts throughout my life talking about breathing. Brad (14m 28s): And we don’t want people to get confused here. So the breath is deep, but it should be really gentle and as little air as you possibly need, but you are engaging the lower lobes of the lungs just by relaxing and inhaling through your nose. Okay? So the BOLT test (body oxygen level test) measures how much carbon dioxide can accumulate until you feel the urge to take a breath. So here’s what you do. You breathe normally through your nose for a few cycles, don’t take a bigger breath than a normal, you know, take a minimal breath just as you’ve been instructed and then exhale normally, exhale gently, and then pinch your nostrils and stop your stopwatch. Brad (15m 17s): So you have no air in your system. You’ve exhaled, not an aggressive exhale where you’re blowing the machine at the hospital so you can get released. I’m talking about just a normal inhale, normal exhale. When you feel like you’re done with the exhale, plug your nostrils, and then you’re going to hold this position with the timer on until you feel the first strong or medium strong urge to breathe. So this is a tricky one because there’s that subjective factor where you can go for the, the grand stand performance and hold out longer. And I’ve been fooling around with this and taking this test several times a day since I been first exposed to it. Brad (15m 58s): And I know if I hold out and I’m looking at the stopwatch and I want to set a new PR, I can take it up a little higher, but you really want to honor that rule of when you feel that first urge to breathe, you don’t want to try to extend past that. Now, Patrick McKeown wants you to be at a minimum of 20 seconds. And I, my gosh, I’m embarrassed to say or proud to say that I’m devoted and trying to work toward a better score, but I was under 20 seconds of pathetic under 20 seconds for my first few BOLT tests. In other words, I exhaled all my air, plug my nostrils, and I really needed to breathe before the stopwatch hit 20. And in just a few weeks of practice, I’ve exceeded 40 seconds, probably cheating a little bit. Brad (16m 43s): So I’m going to say that my new BOLT score is around 35 seconds where I can comfortably last to 35. And when it is time to breathe, this is how you know, whether you’re cheating or being authentic. When it is time to breathe, you simply open your nostrils and take a few nose breaths. You don’t have to open your mouth and gasp for a giant inhalation. That means you’ve extended too far past the comfort point. So it’s holding your breath, holding your exhale, and then breathing in kind of, I’m going to say that I take two or three bigger than normal breaths. And then I go right back into comfortable nose breathing. So be careful with the test and be honest and authentic with yourself and just track when you have the first urge to breathe. Brad (17m 29s): So that’s the BOLT score. The other test that Brian likes is the Exhale Test. So here’s what you do is you take the biggest, most giant fantastic inhale. You can using that entire diaphragm where you inflate the abdomen first and then feel your lungs inflating kind of pushing out the back of your body so you have a full belly, you have expanded lungs, and then you exhale as slowly as you possibly can through your nose only. While starting the stopwatch. So as soon as you begin the gentle exhale, that’s when the watch hits and you want to get up there to around 45 seconds. Brad (18m 10s): If you have to pause or you done exhaling, that’s when you stop the watch. So we can’t have any pauses in there. It’s not a breath hold. It’s a sustained gentle exhale. And you’ll know from performing this test, that this is going to identify your carbon dioxide tolerance, because it’s not easy. And what we want to do after however long, 15, 20 seconds is we have the urge to completely exhale finish quickly and then suck in another big breath. So we want to work toward improving our score on the BOLT test, as well as the simple Exhale Test. And how do you do that? Well, take a few practice sessions here and there. Whenever you’re thinking about it. Brad (18m 50s): In other words, finish a gentle normal exhale, and then just pinch your nostrils and wait until you experience that urge to breathe. And I think boy, I’m surprised at how quickly my tolerance improved and it’s right there on the stopwatch. I’m not trying harder or anything of the sword. It’s just getting better through increased awareness of breathing minimally through my nose all day long and even more important is that nighttime. Cause that’s when you really want to activate parasympathetic function and be sure, absolutely positively sure that you’re breathing minimally through your nose only while you sleep overnight. And how many people can raise their hand and say, they’re rocking this objective. Brad (19m 33s): Not too many, because even mild snoring is suggesting that the airway is making noise is coming through your mouth and that your nose got plugged up and you probably had to switch over to your mouth. So the Breathe Right, nasal strips have been a great device to help facilitate nose breathing. The advanced enthusiasts are talking about mouth taping and you might chuckle when you first hear that concept. Yes. I taped my spouse’s mouth closed every night before we go to bed or Mike Mutzel on our podcast said, yeah, we take our seven year olds mouth shut and we’ve been doing so for a while. It’s like that didn’t come off too. Well, can you elaborate please? But if you tape, you literally tape your mouth close with a special tape made by 3m. Brad (20m 17s): If you’re real bad-ass you can go on Amazon and order your order some up. But again, I don’t want you to be intimidated by the idea, but you really do want to set that goal of breathing through your nose only. And I noticed that, you know, my nostrils for the most part are working okay at night, but sometimes they’re stuffed up at depending on the climate, the environment. And so I might have to bust out a Breathe Right strip. If you have some irregularities with your nasal passages, maybe you’re going to be a, an ongoing user of the Breath Right strip or there’s custom devises. I know my mom had one made, that’s kind of a, a permanent device. It’s not a disposable strip, but you put that on to open up the nostrils. And that is setting yourself up for a good night parasympathetic rest and digest period where you aren’t prompted to breathe through your mouth. Brad (21m 6s): If you wake up with a dry mouth or chapped lips, these are also indications. If in case you’re not aware that you probably breathe through your mouth. So it could be life-changing for many people, because if their sleep is disrupted by mouth breathing or sleep apnea, where you’re skipping, you’re, you’re not breathing for sustained periods, then you’ve got to go into the sleep center, get a C-PAP machine, go down that road. That might be the ticket for a lot of people. But for most of us, if we can try, at least to facilitate mouth breathing at night could be really great. Oh, and I was talking about my occasional challenges with stuffed up nose. I also notice, and this is validated by science that one nostril is more open than the other. Brad (21m 49s): And we kind of switched back and forth between right nostril and left nostril throughout the day. It’s kind of like a right brain left brain thing. So at night I noticed that she’s, I don’t even know which one it is. Let’s see, hold on. I got a picture of myself, Mia Moore I’m on the left side of the bed. Yeah. So it would be my right nostril works more efficiently in the evening hours than my left one. Therefore I positioned my head accordingly to kind of facilitate keeping that right nostril open throughout the night. So huge importance of doing whatever you can to investigate, determine your, your breathing status at night and breathe only through your nose throughout the night. Try the nasal strips. Brad (22m 29s): Go even deeper if you need to. And then during the day, of course, while you’re aware and cognizant of it, we want to make a great, great effort to breathe as minimally as possible. Guess what you’ll notice when it’s time to talk? Yeah. You’re breathing through your mouth. You’re probably taking shallow panting breaths in between your narrations for the podcast or your phone conversation. And then as soon as you’re done talking, you want to get into the habit of retracting reverting into this calm, relaxed, deep diaphragmatic, deep, relaxing diaphragmatic breath through your nose only. That’s the basics. Now, if you’re fussing around on the internet and you’re looking at Wim Hoff, you’re email@example.com and they’re five gears that they take you through gears and applying different breathing techniques. Brad (23m 17s): As you increase exercise intensity, all this great stuff, all the, the meditation practices where you might’ve heard of box breathing or the 478 breathing. And these are all fun and games that will make you a more refined, higher level breathing enthusiasts. But I definitely want to assert that all of us, whether you care about this stuff or not, whether you’re an athlete or not, you can at least strive for that number one basic goal of breathing as minimally as possible, as minimally as necessary around the clock, through your nose only, unless you got to talk or you got to perform magnificent athletic feats. And even then, whatever your workout is, if it’s a comfortably paced aerobic session, that’s kind of the hand-in-hand definition with a proper aerobic session is that you’re able to breathe through your nose only. Brad (24m 6s): And if you have to go faster and take air through your mouth, you’re most likely exceeding your maximum aerobic heart rate. So nose breathing is the essence of aerobic training. And then when you’re doing the high intensity stuff, like I described, try to breathe as minimally as possible. And of course you get a free pass to open your mouth and suck down here when you finished with that 200 meter interval at the track. But then you want to get right back as fast as possible into that parasympathetic dominant diaphragmatic breath through your nose only. And it’s a little bit of a hassle. I’m not gonna lie. I ain’t gonna lie. There’s snot flying everywhere when I’m trying to keep that mouth closed. It’s kind of frustrating. I have been found to grab the, the skin on the side of my nose and pull it apart so I can open those nostrils further. Brad (24m 52s): And Brian MacKenzie cautioned against using the Breathe Right Nasal strips during exercise, because you can kind of overload and fry the, the delicate components of the nasal passageway. So use those with caution, but it’s certainly okay to reach up and try to open up your nostrils a little bit manually when you’re trying to adhere to this goal of breathing through your nose only. So once we get that going, then we can delve deeper into the breathing practices and the advanced stuff. But I want everyone to be on board with this fabulous new objective of breathing, minimally, increasing your carbon dioxide tolerance and having fun, testing it out with the BOLT score and the Exhale test. Brad (25m 39s): How’s that sound, you got some questions right into firstname.lastname@example.org and we will dig deeper into this stuff. And boy, if it’s a, a topic that you’re interested in, as much as I am, we’ll get more guests on here to talk about it further. I think it’s really great stuff and anything we can do to manage stress these days is wonderful. Starting with breathing, taking control of one of the body’s involuntary mechanisms. When we take control, we take control of our nervous system, our stress response. It’s great stuff. Thank you for listening to what is got to go down in history as the most appropriately titled breather show ever. Brad (26m 23s): Breather show about breathing only on the B.rad Podcast. Thank you very much. And Hey, if you like this show, use your app to share it with a friend who deserves to manage stress levels in his or her life. I love my overcast app where I can just push a button and actually record a clip and send it off with a strokes of the thumb. So the favorite two minute section here, where I get into some really juicy stuff, push that thing, text it over to a friend. And I really, really appreciate you doing your part. All of us working hard here on the podcast to help spread the word and gain more listeners. And that would be writing a review. If you have the time and energy to do that, I know it’s a huge ask or sharing the show with a simple text message from most of the podcast apps. Brad (27m 11s): All right. Have a great day. Bye.