How long can a human actually hold their breath?

I was just watching this magic show thingie on TLC. It had a segment on the “Chinese Water Torture” trick wherein a magician gets in a straitjacket and, while hanging upside-down, is lowered into a tank of water. One magician did this while holding his breath for about two minutes and thirty seconds. I have heard of people holding there breath for up to five minutes but I don’t know if it was just a myth. What are some factors for being able to hold your breath for extended periods of time? I believe you would have to be in incredible shape to slow your heart down. Possibly a slender build would be helpful. Your thoughts?

If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not for you.

Whoops a daisy! “How long can humans hold their breath” should be the title.

I’d say as long as he/she wanted to, if they didn’t mind the funny blue skin color and that whole death thing.


Nobody ever calls me after they’ve done something smart.

Well, as far as magic goes, don’t believe everything you hear/see. Houdini supposedly could hold his breath for about 4 minutes, but that took him years of training and practice to accomplish. On the other hand, the water tank trick is just that - a trick. There are ways the magician can sneak a breath. Typically, the tank is covered, then reexposed, before being covered for the last time. And pretty much as soon as it’s covered for the last time, the magician pops out the top of the tank.

One of Houdini’s famous bits was the milk can trick. He would submerge himself in a milk can full of water with no air space, and the lid would be locked, then it would be placed behind a partition. Then it would sit there for 4 or 5 minutes, till the crowd was ready to burst, at which point he would pop out in the nick of time. Of course the trick was a false top on the milk can, and as soon as the partition was closed he climbed out, then sat behind the partition for the tension to build. An artist he was.

Keys - lung capacity, slow heart rate, and practice to delay the gasp reflex.

Deprived of air, you would probably not pass out for 3-5 minutes, depending on how much you retained in your lungs.

I have stayed underwater once for 4 min. and 5 sec.

Free divers and such routinely pass the 5 minute park.

I have heard the documented record is somewhere around 15 minutes but some Yogis can go for about half an hour.

Often wrong… NEVER in doubt

“I’d say as long as he/she wanted to, if they didn’t mind the funny blue skin color and that whole death thing.”

I know you’re kidding, but you did remind me of reading that you can’t hold your breath to death. You pass out, then your autowhatever takes over and you start breathing again.
Survival instinct. :slight_smile:

I only know two things;
I know what I need to know
I know what I want to know
Mangeorge, 2000

I find this questionable. It is well documented that brain damage occurs after less than eight minutes of oxygen deprivation. Now, the average oxygen deprivated victim is prone and immobile for more than five minutes of that time, so their metabolism would have to be considered less than that of a free diver (after six minutes or so, we’ll give them points for remaining calm, but not to many - do the math). I could see a calm, non-hyperactive diver in cold water perhaps going 6.5 minutes without damage - but 15??? C’mon. Where is this documented?

Apparently diver Umberto Pelizarri “has gone for more than seven minutes without inhaling, and survived for more than 19 minutes on one puff of oxygen.”

Remember when your dog ate my goldfish, and you lied and said I never had a goldfish? Then why did I have the bowl, Bart? Why did I have the bowl?

Scientifically it is possible to hold such breaths for such long times by hyperventilating on oxygen. By putting more oxygen coursing in the bloodstream, your body would use that first then start to feed off the air in your lungs. In that respect you have a person who trains to hold a shallow breath for long periods, wills his body not to panic and maintain and even slow his heart rythyms to a almost sleep like state, and has enough oxygen in their bloodstream to not use their oxygen stored in their lungs. A freediver at 7 minutes? Possible. 15? Not very likely. The only way something like this can occur is if a person actually stops their heart and was able to revive and that is lesseneed if they do not die in entreme cold surroundings. ie reviving a person who has drowned in frozen lakes.

Still anything is possible in the human mind

Tyler Durden: You are not your job. You are not the money in your bank account. You are not the car you drive. You are not how much money is in your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

Don’t have a Guinness book with me, but I seem to remember a guy holding his breath under water for over 10 minutes. He hyperventilated on oxygen prior to his attempt. :eek

I said:

I have heard the documented record is somewhere around 15 minutes but some Yogis
can go for about half an hour.

I refer to the yogi Kudo who crops up on TV once in a while.

His M.O is to squeeze himself into a miniscule box (he wears a loincloth)

THey then drop the box to the bottom of a pool or something and leave it there a while.

I have no idea if he’s for real or bogus. If he’s bogus, it’s a pretty good act.

Could only find this:
The record depth for
the extremely dangerous activity of breath-held diving is 107 m 351 ft by
Angela Bandini (Italy) off Elba, Italy on 3 October 1989. She was underwater
for 2 min 46 sec. Arnaud de Nechaud de Feral performed a saturation dive of 73
days from 9 October-21 December 1989 in a hyperbaric chamber simulating a
depth of 300 m 985 ft, as part of the Hydra IX operation carried out by Comex at
Marseilles, France. He was breathing ‘hydrox,’ a mixture of hydrogen and

I know a lot of those Yogi feats are simple tricks - there was a feature on discovery that showed how a number where done, including levitation, though I don’t remember it covering the holding of the breath. I think it is pretty safe to say that that is bogus, however.

WHAT??? Levitation is BOGUS??? You have something to say about the Headless Horseman, too??? I swear to god. Now, as for levitation, if I knew how to scan the archives, I know I read of this in(I think ) More Of The Straight Dope. Help? Anyone? I know Unca Cecil did this in a column.


If you want to kiss the sky, you’d better learn how to kneel.


You may be right. I saw the Yogi Kudo, on the Guinness Book of World Records show, so you’d think thye’d have an eye out against geting duped. I don’t recall specifics though. Sorry

Often wrong… NEVER in doubt