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Your Rate of Breathing Can Reveal Your Health!

Minute Ventilation (VE) is the amount of oxygen we breathe in or out over a given period, usually a minute. Hence Minute Ventilation.

Healthy Minute Ventilation is between 5 and 8 liters/minute of oxygen (normally 12-14 breaths per minute).  There are times when Minute Ventilation is increased, for example, during exercise, which is good.  But other times could be an indication of disease.

During exercise, the physiological demands on the body require you to consume more oxygen to offset the lactic acid and CO2 that are byproducts of increased activity. Our respiration therefore increases from 35 to 45 breaths /minute in healthy young adults, to elite athletes which can achieve 60+ breaths per minute.  This is necessary to offset the effects of increased activity. This amazing process continues throughout our lives keeping us in balance!

An interesting recent twist to this is breathing aware athletes have been taking less breaths, utilizing more oxygen, and recovering faster with conscious breathing techniques. The number of breaths per minute now have dropped to the low 20s for intense exercise! Research from Patrick McKeown, the author of The Oxygen Advantage, has shown that controlled nasal diaphragmatic breathing can greatly decrease the number of breaths needed, increase the oxygen uptake, enhancing performance!

Disease states are a different story.  Certain conditions like cardiovascular disease or diabetes require more oxygen to provide the same recovery process that a healthy person requires, therefore putting more stress on the body.

Here are some examples of corresponding disease states and the corresponding oxygen needs at rest:

  • Healthy Subjects ~8 L/min
  • Heart Disease ~16 L/min
  • Diabetes ~15 L/min
  • Asthma ~15 L/min
  • COPD ~15 L/min
  • Cancer ~14 L/min
  • Sleep Apnea ~16 L/min
  • Hyperthyroidism ~16 L/min
  • Epilepsy ~14 L/min
  • Panic Disorder ~13 L/min

Referenced from www.normalbreathing.com

As you can see, disease states put a heavy burden on the respiratory system and have a detrimental effect on overall health. In essence, their bodies are constantly exercising! 

Deep breathing techniques, specifically diaphragmatic breathing are an easy, learnable, and quick way to help offset the burden of disease states on our health. The better you breathe the less you need to!

Conscious breathing along with recognition of triggers of stress (for another blog) can create almost immediate changes in our health.

Take a deep breath!

Reprinted with permission from authors.

Mike Rickett MS, CSCS*D, CSPS*D, RCPT*E is a nationally recognized health and fitness trainer of the trainers, fitness motivator, author, certifier, educator, and the 2017 NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year.  He has been a fitness trainer for more than 35 years. With Cheri Lamperes, he co-directs BetterHealthBreathing.com, a conscious breathing educational program focusing on the diaphragmatic technique to enhance overall wellness.  In addition, he also directs the personal training site ApplicationInMotion.com.