Breathing isn't something that many of us think much about - and actually, over-thinking your breathing can make you feel paranoid.
Take a moment to time how many breaths you take in a minute. Most healthy adults take between 12 and 20 breaths per 60 seconds. But our breathing should actually be much slower than this. In fact, it's recommended that we take between 6 and 8 breaths per minute.
Although breathing is one of the things that our bodies do constantly, most of us still don't know how to breathe optimally and improve our blood oxygen levels.
This guide will provide you with some handy tips about how to naturally improve the oxygen levels in our blood.
Why is Oxygen Important?
First off, let's look at why our bodies need oxygen in the first place.
It's estimated that 90% of our energy comes from oxygen alone. When we breathe, we take in oxygen, which is then transported around the blood to every cell in the body. At the same time, carbon dioxide is exhaled, which is also important, as we don't need this compound in our bodies.
All our living processes are fuelled by oxygen. Oxygen is used by cells to break chemical bonds in food molecules, like proteins, carbohydrates and sugars, which release energy. The majority of our cells rely on energy to survive - and all of them need oxygen. Providing our cells and muscles with oxygen doesn't just help us to perform physical activity; it also keeps us alive.
Why Should We Improve Our Blood Oxygen Levels?
Considering oxygen keeps us alive, it's fairly obvious why we can all benefit from improving our blood oxygen levels.
Oxygen can provide our body with the best conditions, which will ultimately allow us to live healthier and happier lives. Focused breathing (which can help to improve your oxygen levels) can even improve concentration and decrease stress.
Whether you want to perform at your physical peak, or you just want to get by without hassle, you need adequate oxygen in your blood. Both your mind and your body can perform better when you improve your oxygen levels. A lack of oxygen, on the other hand, can cause you to feel tired, sluggish, and fatigued.
How to Measure your Blood Oxygen Level
Whether you have a reason to believe you have a low blood oxygen level (such as if you've been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), or you're just curious, you can measure your blood oxygen level using a pulse oximeter.
A pulse oximeter measures blood oxygen in SPO2, or peripheral capillary oxygen saturation. This gives an estimate of what percentage of oxygen your blood carries around compared to the maximum oxygen it could carry.
You can buy your own pulse oximeter or ask your doctor if they can check your blood oxygen levels in your next checkup. The normal range for SPO2 is from 94 to 96%.
If you have a lung disease, you may have a lower SPO2 level. In this case, your doctor may prescribe treatments such as oxygen therapy, which provides your body with supplemental oxygen intake to ensure your cells remain healthy and optimally functioning.
If your blood oxygen level is below 90%, it's considered critical, and may have an effect on your lungs, heart, and liver.
How to Boost Blood Oxygen Level
We know the importance of oxygen for our cells, energy and body functions. Generally, the greater amount of oxygen we can take in, the healthier we'll be.
There are a number of ways to boost your blood oxygen level. These include adjusting certain environmental factors and training your body to obtain more oxygen through exercise and breathing techniques.
Below are the best methods of boosting the amount of oxygen in your blood:
1. Get Plenty of Fresh Air
When the weather is warm enough, open your windows, allowing fresh air into your home. Dedicate half an hour per day for a walk outside. Fresh air is one of the best sources of oxygen, and should energize you instantly.
Your local air quality will vary, depending on where in the world you live. Urban areas are more susceptible to smog and pollution. In this case, it will be healthier for you to invest in an air filtration system rather than opening your windows. This will purify the air in your home.
2. Increase Your Water Intake
Just like oxygen, water is an essential ingredient for everyday health. The lungs need to be hydrated to effectively oxygenate and expel carbon dioxide. If you don't drink enough water, it could affect your respiratory processes.
The amount of water we drink can have an impact on our overall oxygen levels. Make sure you're drinking at least two liters of water per day. If you often forget to drink, buy a two-liter water bottle or pitcher and fill it in the morning, making sure you've emptied it completely by the end of the day.
3. Eat Iron-Rich Foods
There are certain foods that can have an impact on our oxygen intake.
Iron, for instance, is one of the most important minerals for the red blood cells (which transport blood to the cells and muscles in the body). One of the most common signs of an iron deficiency is tiredness and weakness, which is caused by the reduced ability of our red blood cells to carry blood around the body.
There are plenty of iron-rich foods to add to your diet if you think you may have an iron deficiency. Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli and kale, are all great sources of iron. Whizz them into a smoothie if you're not a fan of their texture. Legumes, apples, and lean proteins like fish, eggs and poultry are also packed full of iron.
If you're really struggling to take in the iron you need, consider using iron supplements. You can buy these online or from most health stores.
4. Exercise Every Day
Exercise seems to be the solution to every health problem, so it's no surprise that it can also help to boost oxygen levels.
The better our bodies can be at using and obtaining oxygen, the greater our energy levels. Increasing how much oxygen you use - which can be achieved through exercise - can help to strengthen our cells' endurance.
There is a definite link between the amount of oxygen we breathe in and our performance. The higher the oxygen uptake, the better-performing our cells - and therefore our bodies - will be.
Exercises such as sprint and interval training can be particularly helpful in boosting endurance. But if you're not up for something so intense, try speed walking.
5. Practice Breathing
It might seem a little strange to practice doing something you've done naturally since birth, but a lot of us aren't breathing as efficiently as we could do.
If you want to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood, exercise alone isn't enough. There are plenty of deep and slow breathing exercises that can be used to increase the oxygen level in your blood. Optimal breathing can bring supplemental oxygen into the respiratory system, allowing it to be more effectively transported around the body.
Deep breathing practices can do more than just increase your oxygen level. They can also help improve your concentration and reduce stress.
One simple breathing exercise is diaphragmatic breathing. Here's how to do it:
Start by sitting with your back straight, with one hand placed on your stomach and the other on your chest.
Inhale through your nose, slowly and deeply, until your stomach has fully expanded.
Exhale out of your mouth, slowly and steadily.
Repeat the exercise for up to 15 minutes.
6. Grow Green Things
When the weather is bad and you can't open your windows, growing green things in your home will increase the oxygen available indoors.
There are plenty of plants that are both aesthetically pleasing and oxygen boosting. Ferns are a great choice in particular. They're low-maintenance and don't need a lot of sunlight.
Storing a plant or two in your living room or home office should help you to feel more alert and energized.
7. Practice Mindfulness
We've touched on breath training already, and mindfulness is similar. However, rather than focusing on how you breathe, mindfulness requires you to completely empty your mind in meditation.
If you've never meditated before, you may find it difficult to commit to. It's worth looking into guided meditations, especially those with a focus on deep breathing. You will be instructed to breathe in for several seconds, followed by a deep breath out. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but your body will soon become used to the slower pace of breathing.
Even just five to ten minutes of meditation per day can relax and focus your breathing, helping to reduce stress and boost your oxygen levels.
The tips in this guide should help improve your blood oxygen level naturally. For the most part, our lungs are designed to efficiently take in oxygen without outside support. But adding certain foods to your diet, getting lots of exercise, and practicing breath-work can provide additional benefits to the lungs.
Keep in mind that if you have been diagnosed with a lung disease like asthma or COPD, the actions in this guide alone may not be enough to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood to a healthy level. While getting plenty of expertise and adding green leafy vegetables to your diet will be good for your overall health, your body may require additional medical support.
Speak to your doctor if you're concerned about your blood oxygen levels. If your oxygen levels are above normal, you may be referred to a medical specialist, who can prescribe suitable treatment, such as oxygenation, to optimize your lung health.