Here are some important facts:
Autonomic Nervous System bio-feedback is very important for the athletes
Breath holding exercises – Can help anyone learn more about their autonomic nervous system and even improve the immune system
Curiosity – every athlete is curious about how their body is doing, and this affects confidence
Detect early onset pulmonary respiratory issues with the lungs and heart
Pulse Oximetry – Athletes can see in real time how the SpO2 and heart rate responds and can visually appreciate the SpO2 optimizing with their breathing techniques
Pulse oximetry is a safe, effective noninvasive method for athletes to measure their own oxygen saturation in a convenient location. Peripheral oxygen saturation or SpO2 is a good correlation to the state of oxygenation in the arterial blood system in humans. It is in fact our arterial blood system that delivers blood to our muscles and organs which defines the capabilities of our athletic endeavors. Pulse oximetry measures the ratio of red to infrared light absorption of pulsatile blood flow. Until recently, the pulse oximeter was reserved for medical use focusing on respiratory care, but with scientific advances, this device is accessible to everyone and it has specific uses in the optimization of athletes.
Pulse Oximetry in Athletes
Pulse oximetry is a valuable tool for any athlete competing in a multitude of sports to guide them through health and training decisions. Athletes using pulse oximetry to guide daily training and living activities are going to have a distinct advantage over those who do not. Knowing that something is not going in the right direction before it becomes a problem is essential to prevention of overtraining, undertraining or illness. Monitoring oxygenation can function as a spot check for athletes to know that they are capable of having a really good training session, or if they are not hitting their training goals, a direction to the reason why. The pulse oximeter and the other variables of the Mighty Sat pulse oximeter can be used as prevention tool. The reward is that it may pay off just before or at a crucial sporting event. Finally, it is a great feeling for the athlete to know what is going on inside of the body.
Use of oxygen measurements can give the athlete confidence that the body’s physiology is doing well and that nothing has changed. Having the confidence that everything is going as planned can be as valuable as actually training.
Knowing the body is optimally oxygenated gives a mental edge to an athlete that everything is going as well as possible.
Low SpO2 may signal the start of a respiratory infection and can signal the athlete to modify training and / or to seek medical evaluation
Breathing exercises that develop carbon dioxide retention tolerances are valuable for many reasons to an athlete. Consistent practice of breathing exercises can help avoid illness, increase resistance to low oxygen / high carbon dioxide states, exercise the accessory respiratory muscles, produce a release of nitric oxide and provides a short period of meditation and reflection. I try to focus on the practical mental and physiologic components of breathing exercises, used a tool that can be practiced anywhere and anytime. The advantages of having the athlete use the pulse oximeter for these exercises:
The athlete has an initiative to use the pulse oximeter each morning
They need the pulse oximeter to watch the SpO2 and heart rate along with the exercise
A visual monitor to follow the extremes of their SpO2 and heart rate
There are many high quality, legitimate medical studies showing the benefits of breathing exercises. It’s no secret that a well-functioning immune system protects the body from pathogens, but sometimes it’s not strong enough. The immune system is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, and it has long been thought that we could not voluntarily influence our immune system nor the autonomic nervous system. Recent studies have shown that humans do indeed have the potential and ability to influence the autonomic immune system (ANS) with the power of the mind. Please keep in mind this study was done in healthy humans, and more studies need to be done.
Every morning, I drink a cold glass of water with my Tianchi Adaptogenic herbs and note my baseline values from the Mighty Sat pulse oximeter. In a comfortable position, I start my routine breathing exercises. I then execute full, controlled, rapid breathes for a 20 to 40 count. Usually, there is a feeling of light-headedness or tingling in the extremities, and the once this is achieved I continue the breaths until the SpO2 reads 99 or 100%. This optimizes oxygenation. Then I fully exhale and hold my breath using a timer. During a breath hold, there should be no urge to breath. This is a time for reflection and meditation; I sometimes mentally “scan” my body while not having any urge to breath. During this time the SpO2 should remain at 99 or 100%. Normally, when 90 to 120 seconds pass, the heart rate and SpO2 will progressively decrease. I never panic and I just go with it. Sometimes I feel a tingling or the urge to urinate (nitric oxide release), at this moment, I start reciting the alphabet (thanks Tim Ferris) and hold respiration until it feels uncomfortable. Usually, the SpO2 is decreased to less than 60%, and I have even seen it drop to 40% at times. The heart rate often drops to 35 and even 30 beats per minute. I often am able to breath freely and open after the exercise. There is also an intense moment of mental clarity afterwards. I usually am able to repeat the process 1 or 2 times during the day. And I have never had any ill effects from performing these exercises.
There are many points to highlight that are useful:
I am accustomed to how my SpO2, heart rate, and breathing are interconnected. Essentially learning how to control my ANS.
I notice subtle changes in my physiology and am better able to make decisions about training and recovery.
I also did a video that is posted on YouTube – 2:30 minute breath hold/meditation exercise with ECG and saturation monitoring. Please read advisory below. I did this video with my cardiologist colleague in the lab. He wrote this excerpt about the experiment:
“While there are many videos about long breath holds on YouTube, this was done in a cardiology stress lab with continuous ECG and oxygen monitoring. Full ACLS/resuscitation equipment was available with trained personnel present. As an electrophysiologist I feel the arrhythmia’s seen could be dangerous depending on age and pre-existing (sometimes hidden) heart problems. This is especially true if one attempts this underwater or in other circumstances where you cannot take a breath when the body absolutely has to. I do not feel extreme breath holding should be practiced.”
While he is pretty concerned with the cardiac rhythms that appeared, I have never experienced any ill effects from performing these exercises. Also, I do not perform extreme breath holding exercises (I leave that to Stig Severinson) and breath holding exercises have a pretty good track record given that there are literally thousands of people performing these exercises every day. And there are no reported ill effects from performing these breathing exercises to my knowledge, except in those perhaps trying to underwater breath holds. In any case, if you have any cardiac problems or suspect any, we do recommend proper medical evaluation prior to trying these exercises.
In Summary, I feel the biggest gains from performing the breathing exercises are that you learn to control your ANS, potentially improve your immune system, perform stress relieving meditation, and learning how to breath.
To your health