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Just One Breath Away


Photo courtesy of e-magic


I suppose we all take it for granted even though we would be in big trouble if we didn’t get the next one.  I’m taking about breathing of course and the quality thereof.  There is not a cell in your body that doesn’t need oxygen, they literally burn oxygen for energy.  Your nervous system, particularly your brain, has a high requirement for oxygen.  That’s why there’s extra blood flow to your brain.


Below is a short list of consequences of poor oxygen saturation.


  1. Low energy
  2. Headache
  3. Light headedness
  4. Long term cognitive decline
  5. Higher chance of neuro-degenerative disorders (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s)


There are two simple ways to see how you’re doing.  We use a pulse oximeter to measure blood oxygen saturation.  The saturation levels should be 99% or better but we typically see numbers of 95-97%.  You’ll start to feel quite obviously bad below about 92% and if you were in a hospital with a saturation level below 95% most doctors would put you on oxygen.  Bear in mind that your saturation levels drop 4-5 points during the night so it’s not good if you’re already starting low.  This is one reason why a certain type of stroke often happens at night.


The other thing to check is chest expansion.  For a man this should be about 3 inches and for a woman, 2.5.  It’s very common to find people with 1” and sometimes as little as 1/4” of chest expansion!  The richest part of your lungs lies in the lower third but if you’re unable to breathe deeply, the air never gets down there and so your oxygen saturation suffers.


What can you do?  There’s a lot.


  1. Exercise – the primary benefit of exercise is getting oxygen to your tissue, especially your brain.  If you’re not exercising, start small and grow into it.  You don’t have to be uncomfortable but you do need to get your heart rate up a bit, 180 minus your age is a good target.
  2. Get adjusted – We do a special kind of rib adjustment that gets your ribs moving better on the front and the back.  This will improve chest expansion from 1/2” to 1 inch.  That makes a huge difference in oxygen saturation.
  3. Breathe – Many of us have to learn how to breathe again.  You should be breathing with your diaphragm at a rate of about 6-12 breath a minute and your exhale should be twice as long as your inhale.  You’ll need to practice that but you’ll also be pleased with the difference it makes.


Any questions?


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2 Join the Conversation

  1. Wanda says
    Nov 20, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    I shared this blog with my exercise group and they were more aware of breathing properly during their exercises. Thank you for this most valuable information.

    • Dr. Ryan Lees says
      Nov 21, 2012 at 8:53 AM

      You're welcome. Thanks for sharing.

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