Exercising in an oxygen enriched atmosphere

Would this increase my stamina and endurance capabilities, and therefore enable me to exercise for longer without gasping for breath?

The web is full of quackery on this subject. ( well at least that’s what it seems to me)

I suspect if there was a benefit then there would be lots of gyms supplying masks or devices to deliver higher levels of oxygen to the customer. And frankly, I don’t see any let alone many.

But as a smoker ( god knows how I try to stop) I can exercise and nearly always have to stop because my leg muscles have turned to jelly and I am panting for breath. It’s easy in this case for me to believe that am panting and gasping because I need more oxygen. But is there another reason?

Is this oxygen depletion? Carbon Dioxide overload?

I know that when I had my heart attack they put some device over my nose that gently blew some 02 over me while they were monitoring me.

So what’s the straightdope on this? Could there be a benefit with exercising in an oxygen enriched atmosphere

Here’s an excerpt(Google Books) from The Four Minute Mile.

Am not sure that link shows what you intended. It delivers to my browser an advertisement for Roger Bannister’s book.

Did he use additional oxygen to train?

I also did a little more reading and learn that the muscle fatigue could also be due to a build up of lactic acid within the muscle tissues. So am not sure whether a high oxygen environment could assist in removing that.

No ,he did some experiments with supplemental oxygen on a treadmill and found an increase in work capacity.

Google “roger bannister high oxygen” and you should see the link.

It would help in the short term, but would not improve your Cardiovascular capability. In fact, it would probably reduce it, because your body would find it easier to oxygenate, and thus would reduce oxygen carrying capability. Athletes use high altitude training (with a lower partial pressure of oxygen) to boost their oxygen carrying capacity for competition.

A slow, natural increase in cv capacity through training (and giving up smoking) is the OPs best bet.


Yes the stopping smoking is my parallel priority.

Am approaching 53 and making some seriously overdue lifestyle changes.

My problem with running machines is my stamina. I find am short of breath before my legs go to jelly.

If i use a bicycle then my legs go to jelly before I am out of breath.

Now I am still at the stage where I hate and absolutely detest exercising and working out. Its a chore ( but am stubborn so will do it)

I don’t have a trainer or any other supervisor in my condos gym facility. But I really I am looking at any option to maximise the benefit I can get out of this despicable gym routine

Missed edit window

I was reading this article


And although I understand maybe about 35% of it, the gist of it seems ( to me ) that if you are sufficiently oxygenated you can successful metabolize sugars etc. but if you don’t have sufficient oxygen then the extra activity will produce more lactic acid in the muscles and effectively make them useless.

That seems to suggest that there is a benefit to adding extra oxygen.

However another article I read says that red blood corpuscles are in any case normally saturated with oxygen and even if you breathe in a higher percentage of oxygen then it isn’t going to be absorbed (I don’t have the cite at hand at the moment but could easily find it again if asked)

This is confusing to me.

So am eager to hear anyone’s views or facts they have discovered.

here’s the relevant section from a turgid prose

Metabolically, there are two types of exercise, aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic exercise uses oxygen as energy substrate to metabolize food to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) (see box below, METABOLIC CHANGES DURING AEROBIC AND ANAEROBIC EXERCISE). When the supply of oxygen is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of exercising muscles, anaerobic metabolism begins. In anaerobic metabolism, glucose is converted to ATP without oxygen, and lactic acid is generated as a by-product. A healthy person can perform aerobic exercise for several hours; in contrast, pure anaerobic exercise can only be sustained for a few minutes before severe dyspnea and fatigue set in.

There is a benefit to having extra oxygen to the muscle fibres in question. However, just adding additional oxygen to the air you breathe is unlikely to produce that result. As noted, red blood corpuscles are pretty much saturated. So the only way to get more oxygen to the muscles are more red blood cells (which generally does not happen without the altitude training I mentioned) or increasing the ability of the heart to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body, and the muscles to use that blood supply. This is improved by regular and consistent exercise. This is where heart rate training zones are valuable. For sustainable aerobic training, 60-75% of maximum heart-rate is the target zone. Any more than that and you are hitting the anerobic zone and lactic acid resistance becomes the limiting factor. Cite, although they use slightly different guideline figures.

And I know how hard it is - I went from morbidly obese (BMI 36) in 2008 to slightly overweight (BMI 27) but fit now. And I hated parts of it. But I do feel really good, and I love the way I feel after a good run/swim/cycle/row/class. Try looking at your heart-rate during exercise - a monitor is pretty cheap. Slow down your running so you can sustain the exercise for longer, but mix it up a bit (some short fast work, some slower, longer sessions). Do different things to keep your interest up. Use some music if it helps - I don’t but I run outside and look at the world. It will work eventually, and it really will help.


Anaerobic metabolism kicks in at about 75-85% of max. heart rate. You’re simply working too hard if you’re getting out of breath.

Your capacity to absorb oxygen is certainly compromised from your smoking.
Try walking briskly instead of running. When you start to get out of breath, slow down a bit until you recover.

runner pat and si_blakely thank you very much for your responses.

I’ve just actually completed a stress test for a new work assignment and I had to get to 80% of my max safe heart rate. ( runner pat thanks I now understand where that target comes from)

si_blakely thanks also for your post. your BMI alteration is amazing! Am gonna come back to your post.

hey guys please feel free to add more hints, helps here or PM me.


But one thing, I realise is that I need to quit the smoking.

I’m not sure this is what your cite says. In particular, this section, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_altitude_training#Live_high.2C_train_low, suggests that living at altitude is helpful for building up additional oxygen carrying capacity, but that you still want to train with sea-level conditions. It doesn’t necessarily follow from this that increasing oxygen beyond what’s available at sea-level will be helpful, but it does suggest that if you’re just using the oxygen for training and not for normal living conditions that you wouldn’t expect it to reduce your cardiovascular capacity.

I’m actually right in the middle of Respiratory Therapist school, so your cite on exercise physiology looks like it could have come straight out of any of my textbooks. Unfortunately, this concept (and your particular situation) is simply too complicated to boil down to yes/no answer.

I can touch on the basics- first lets stick only to aerobic exercise, I’ll touch on anaerobic at the very end. I’ll take them from your POV personally, with your smoking and cardiac history, hopefully this is ok (I’ll say ‘you’ a lot, but I’m just meaning a general ‘you’)

You are right that shortness of breath can come from too much CO2 and/or too little O2, but it’s hard to tell exactly which you are suffering from without special testing. I might even be more inclined to think you may be having pump failure, as a side effect of your MI, which can also cause these problems.

Basically, you can think of you lung/heart/muscle system as a chemical combustion engine. You have to have fuel and air- what you eat and breathe, a system for delivering them to the cylinder- your heart and bloodstream, and a means for venting your waste gas- exhaling CO2.

Initially you could be having ‘too rich’ type problem, where your muscles aren’t able to get enough air to meet their fuel requirements. Maybe you are having trouble diffusing enough oxygen across your alveolar membrane (due to smoking damage) or you may not be moving a large enough amount of air with each breath to meet this demands (possibly slight/early COPD or emphysema). Either one of these problems could be helped with some supplemental O2, but neither of them is particularly reversible, so they probably won’t improve over time.

Your heart is incredibly important to the whole setup, but really it serves as nothing more than a delivery system- think carburetor or fuel injectors. If it can’t pump an adequate volume of blood to your muscles, they will start to run out of air, run low on glucose and develop an excess of CO2. A weak or damaged heart (from lack of training or secondary to MI) can definitely have trouble stepping up to the challenge.

Finally you have to get rid of CO2, which normally doesn’t produce any problems as long as you are below the Anaerobic Threshold. Your body has to naturally take on more O2 to burn more fuel, and at the same time blows of extra CO2 without having to work at it. However once you cross that threshold, you have to keep increasing the amount of air you are moving since CO2 production continues to increase (although oxygen requirements level off) with anaerobic respiration as well.

So, to finally answer your question, in some cases oxygen might give you a slight boost to endurance while you are using it while working out, but it probably won’t have any long term benefits. It sounds like you are on the right track and know what needs to be done, but for right now work on slowly strengthening your cardiovascular system, stopping smoking and building your muscular efficiency will pay off most in the mid to long term. For the average person, they might notice a large change in O2 partial pressure, but most likely they will have too many other compounding factors to to account for.

I think you just need to keep the speed low enough that you can make your target, and then increase speed only as you achieve each goal. If you are really out of shape, you may have to just walk briskly at first.