Is holding your breath bad for you?

A friend advised holding my breath to build lung capacity. I don’t live on a mountain or own a pool, so this seemed like a reasonable option. But lack of oxygen kills brain cells… and I’m a nerd for a living… I need every brain cell I have!

Please advise: would a regime of holding my breath increase my lung capacity (I want to run a marathon next year but start wheezing after the first three miles), and is there any danger to my brain? When I was a kid, I held my breath for 3 minutes once… is that why my SAT scores were so low?

On the other hand, plenty of famous thinkers were smokers/drinkers, so maybe killing off a few brain cells would improve my brain…

IANADoctor, but I really doubt that you are going to cause yourself any brain damage from holding your breath. IIRC, you have to go several minutes without air for problems to happen. Holding your breath just results in a low oxygen environment for a short while. If you do hold your breath too long you’ll faint - at which point you’ll start breathing again. It is a built in defense for that situation.

IANAD either, but I can’t image that it’s going to cause you any harm; as Adam Yax says, you’ll pass out and start breathing before you suffer from anoxia. (Excessive breath holding while freediving can be dangerous, as you can build up excess carbon dioxide at depth which then can lead to shallow water blackout where you to suddenly lose consciousness when you ascend, but this isn’t a problem at normal atmospheric pressures.)

I don’t think this is going to help you become a better marathoner, though. Although breath holding will increase your lung capacity, that doesn’t lead into an increase in the number of alveoli or a better O[sub]2[/sub]-CO[sub]2[/sub] exhange efficiency. The most effective way to increase your cardovascular efficiency is to…exercise. Big surprise there, I know.


You know, I don’t think it will, necessarily.

Indeed. If somone suggests a program of breath-holding as a way of training for a marathon, I’d suggest they put the bong down.

There was some interest a while back in devices you breathed through that added resistance to intake / exhalation of breath. These were supposed to improve lung capacity (I think), or maybe just the efficiency of breathing. AFAIK, they are now on the Great Stockpile of Lost Stupidities, along with invisible cheese, and the water-soluble onion.

**Is holding your breath bad for you? **

Depends how long you do it. If you hold it until you die, I’d say it’s bad for you. If you do it until you pass out, it’s not good, but I doubt if there are long-term effects. The human body is pretty resilient. And I don’t think you can blame your SAT scores on your breath-holding incidents!

Don’t know about holding your breath, but if you take up bagpiping it will most defineatly increase your lung capacity.

Heh heh…

I am slowly increasing my running distance and speed… but the real challenge doesn’t seem to be my legs or my energy level. The real challenge seems to be getting enough air. In other words, I feel like I could run forever if I could just get enough air. So I postulate that I need to work on lung capacity (or efficiency, maybe, as folks advise below). Friends have advised sleeping in an oxy tent (a tent that thins the air), swimming more, and moving to a higher altitude… and then there was advice to hold my breath regularly… grain of salt, definitely.

Your friends are as mad as jumping kippers. Well, not completely:

Running efficiency is very important, but the best way to improve this is to run more! (VO2max will very likely improve with conventional endurance training, though I don’t think lung capacity itself changes much).

Altitude training might be useful, but you would usually go this route only by the time you’ve reached Olympic standards. ‘Train high sleep low’ is the old mantra, but I think there are arguments that the reverse might be of use.

Swimming won’t help your running much, if at all.

Run more man, run more - that’s the ticket!