We are all taught that physical exercise is good for us. It can sometimes produce numerous benefits and there is even anecdotal evidence that exercise saved lives of people with cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and many other conditions. On the other hand, it is also known that some patients with heart disease can die during exercise due to heart attacks (coronary artery spasm). Similarly, the exercise-induced asthma attack is a well-known phenomenon. You may also notice that some days you feel great after your exercise, but the effect is not the same during other days.
Which physical exercise is most beneficial or safest in terms of health restoration? Should severely sick people exercise? How? A large group of Russian self-oxygenation doctors (about 200 MDs) tested over many thousands patients with asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many other chronic conditions and developed strict criteria for safe exercise. Their main criterion was the tissue oxygenation before and after the exercise. In other words, they studied the effect of exercise on tissue oxygenation. Why did they choose body oxygenation?
Low body oxygenation is the normal feature for all patients with heart disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes and many other chronic conditions. While measurements of tissue oxygenation require special equipment, they used a simple test that is very sensitive to tissue oxygenation. Their patients measured their stress-free breath holding time after exhalation. How is it done?
After your usual exhale, pinch your nose and count your stress-free breath holding time in seconds. Keep nose pinched until you experience the first desire to breathe. Practice shows that this first desire appears together with an involuntary push of the diaphragm or swallowing movement in the throat. (Your body warns you, "Enough!") If you release the nose and start breathing at this time, you can resume your usual breathing pattern (in the same way as you were breathing prior to the test). Do not extend breath holding too long. This is the most common mistake. You should not gasp for air or open your mouth when you release your nose. The test should be easy and not cause you any stress. This test does not interfere with your usual breathing.
These self-oxygenation doctors discovered the following results for patients with chronic diseases.
Severely sick, hospitalized, and terminally ill patients have from 1 to 10 s of oxygen. With approaching death, their breathing gets bigger, deeper, and heavier, (we often can see such dramatic deaths) while breath holding time approaches zero: 5, 4, 3, 2, and only 1 second of oxygen just before the death.
Sick patients with mild forms of the disease (asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, etc.) have about 10-20 s of oxygen. These patients are usually on medication to control their symptoms. Asymptomatic asthmatics, heart patients and many others have slightly more than 20 s of oxygen. Healthy adults, according to published western results, should have about 40 s of oxygen, but these MDs found that 60 s of oxygen is incompatible with about 150 chronic diseases or diseases of civilization. Hence, they established 60 s as a standard of ideal health.
The main factor that defines body oxygenation is the breathing pattern of the person. Sick people have heavy (big and deep) breathing pattern, while oxygenation is low. Healthy people have invisible and inaudible breathing and a lot of oxygen in tissues. You can easily observe these clinical findings in your relatives and friends. The reasons of better oxygenation are sufficient body CO2 stores. CO2, the gas we exhale, dilates blood vessels and controls O2 release by red blood cells in tissues (the Bohr law). Hence, those who breathe little have better oxygenation. The goal of the Buteyko self-oxygenation therapy is to have very light breathing and large oxygen content.
Physical exercise, according to clinical experience of these doctors, is the main factor that helps us to improve body oxygenation. However, they found that there are certain requirements for the exercise in order to be useful. Ruler #1 is to breathe in and out only through the nose. Why is it important? When we breathe through the nose during the exercise, the human body has more CO2 in the blood and tissues. Hence, the breathing centre adapts to higher CO2 concentrations. After exercise, breathing becomes lighter and we have more oxygen in the body (the paradox of breathing: those who breathe heavier have less oxygen in tissues).
The additional effect of nasal breathing relates to nitric oxide, a powerful hormone produced in nasal passages. Nitric oxide also dilates blood vessels, helps O2 release in tissues, modulates the immune system, and normalizes transmission of nerve signals. When we breathe through the mouth, we cannot utilize our own nitric oxide. (You may know that the popular heart drug nitroglycerine reduces blood pressure and prevents heart attacks only due to its chemical transformation into nitric oxide.)
These oxygenation doctors developed a system of breathing retraining (known as the Buteyko method) where exercise is the key to better health. However, patients with less than 10 s of oxygen in the body are usually not able to exercise at all. (If you can walk with only nasal breathing, it is great!) Health of these patients can be improved with breathing exercises that boost body oxygenation. When oxygenation is better (between 10 and 20 s), patients can walk and walking is a very positive factor for this group of people. In fact, most patients with asthma and heart disease can recover in 2-4 weeks, if they walk with nasal breathing for 4-6 hours every day, prevent mouth breathing and sleeping on one's back.
Jogging, cycling, and other intensive exercise are possible when oxygenation is 20 s or more. If we have less than 20 s, we cannot exercise and should not do any rigorous exercise. (According to my experience with my students, only a few people in a hundred can exercise with mouth closed when their oxygenation is less than 20 s.) But when we have more than 20 s of oxygen, more rigorous exercise becomes the main tool for further health improvement.
Generally, body oxygenation index gets higher hours after exercise and even during the next morning, if we breathe strictly through the nose. Hence, breathe only through the nose: in and out. Exercise as much as you like, up to 5-7 hours daily. And it is easy to check that these ideas are correct. Some days you can breathe only through the nose, other days only through the mouth during exercise. Measure your oxygenation just before and 2-3 hours after exercise during all these days. Compare your O2 improvements for breathing though the nose and, if any gains, mouth. In fact, these doctors found that it is impossible to get heart or asthma attacks during or after exercise with only nasal breathing.
Dr. Artour Rakhimov (www.NormalBreathing.com) is a health educator in self-oxygenation, breathing and the Buteyko self-oxygenation medical therapy. He is the author of books and the educational website https://www.NormalBreathing.com devoted to natural self-oxygenation, breathing education and breathing retraining.