Try This Simple Exercise To Increase Your Respiratory Strength

By Olivia Giacomo
mbg Social Media Associate
Olivia Giacomo is mbg's Social Media Associate. A recent graduate from Georgetown University, she has previously written for LLM Law Review.
mbg Social Media Associate

We at mindbodygreen are no strangers to the power of the breath to influence your well-being, be it physical, mental, or emotional. Given the plethora of benefits (find 'em here!), we're always curious about new, innovative ways to support the ability to breathe well. So when breathing expert and bestselling author Patrick McKeown sat down for the mindbodygreen podcast, we were quick to ask: What can you do to improve your breathing?

It turns out, he has a simple exercise to increase your respiratory strength: a humble breath hold. McKeown lays out all the details below.

A simple exercise to increase respiratory strength.

"If you are healthy, you're not pregnant, and you've got no serious medical conditions, do some breath holds," McKeown says. It takes just a minute or two to practice, but with consistency, it can increase your respiratory strength by leaps and bounds.


He details the process this way: "You take a normal breath in and out through your nose, pinch your nose, and hold. Then start walking with the breath hold and go into a jog. Keep going until the air hunger is quite strong, and then let go." Perhaps start with a simple walk, working your way up to a jog after a few sessions.

Essentially, this exercise reduces your carbon dioxide sensitivity—which, in case you didn't know, is an important marker for top-notch respiratory strength. "What that can do is increase carbon dioxide in the blood, and it can help to reduce your sensitivity to the gas," McKeown adds. "That's something we use a lot with athletes, but it does more than that: It will open up the nose; it will open up the lungs; it will increase blood flow to the brain."

Additionally, according to McKeown, breath holds can cause the spleen to contract, which can improve your oxygen-carrying capacity: "The spleen is our blood bank," he says. "It contains about 8% of our red blood cells. So when you do a long breath hold, the spleen will release red blood cells into circulation. This is why we have athletes do it before they go out into a game, because it takes about 10 to 60 minutes for the spleen to reabsorb that blood back." (He has a whole YouTube video discussing the topic, too, in case you're curious.)

The takeaway.

If you're looking to bolster your respiratory strength, consider trying out breath holds (assuming you don't have any serious medical conditions). It's a simple way to support an integral aspect of your well-being, and it's relatively low-lift (and completely free!). And if you've practiced a bunch and are itching to know how your breath measures up? This quick test will tell you if you're breathing right.

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