I mean the book by Patrick McKeown: The Oxygen Advantage.  It’s all about breathing.  Yes, that thing we do automatically, and probably don’t give a lot of thought about, unless of course we can’t.  Would it surprise you to learn that the majority of people don’t really understand how breathing works, or how to breathe properly?  This is such an important topic and book that I’m devoting an entire blog to it.


Mr. McKeown makes the this bold statement in the beginning of “The Oxygen Advantage:”The biggest obstacle to health and fitness is a rarely identified problem: chronic over breathing.”  Many people breathe two to three times the air they need without knowing it. He finds that even some well trained athletes share this problem, and that their performance increases dramatically when he coaches them on how to breathe properly. You could have this problem if you answer yes to these questions.

  • Do you often breathe though your mouth with normal activity?
  • Do you snore or sleep with your mouth open at night?
  • Can you visibly notice your breathing at rest?
  • Do you regularly sigh throughout the day?
  • Do you experience any of these symptoms; nasal congestion, fatigue, tightening of the airways (asthma), dizziness or light headedness?
  • Do you feel breathless or air hunger with moderate exercise?

We are often told by well meaning people that we should take deep breaths.  Taking a deep breath can actually feel good and induce relaxation.  Done chronically, it can be detrimental. Looking at some principles of respiration can help us understand why. We all know that when we breathe in we are oxygenating our blood, and that oxygen binds to hemoglobin in the red blood cells for transport to our tissues. The thing is, oxygen is not the primary regulator of breathing.  Breathing is actually regulated by the often forgotten other half of respiration: carbon dioxide.

McKeown uses the analogy that CO2 (carbon dioxide) is the doorway that lets oxygen into our muscles. CO2 is the limiting factor in the release O2 from hemoglobin.  Not having enough CO2 in our blood closes the door to O2 release to tissues.  When we breathe in excess of what we require, too much CO2 is removed from the blood, This forces the door into a more closed position, making it harder for O2 to pass through to tissues. This makes people feel chronically low on energy.  Try doing the BOLT (Blood Oxygen Level Test) to see if your might be a chronic over breather. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Have a timer ready and sit quietly for a minute.
  2. On exhalation, hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
  3. Time the number of seconds until you feel the first sensations of your body urging you to breathe.  This might include the need to swallow, constriction of the airways or involuntary contraction of the abdominal muscles or diaphragm.
  4. Release your nose, stop the timer and breathe in through your nose.  Your inhalation at the end of the breath hold should be calm.  The BOLT is not a test of how long you can hold your breath, so if you need to take a big breath at the end of your hold, you have held your breath for too long.

Since CO2 is the primary stimulus for breathing, the length of your breath hold is related to how much carbon dioxide you are able to tolerate: your ventilatory response to CO2. When your BOLT score is lower, the ventilation receptors in your brain are especially sensitive to carbon dioxide, ultimately leading to decreased oxygen delivery by the blood.  A higher BOLT score means better tolerance to CO2 resulting in lighter breathing and better oxygen delivery during exercise and at rest. This equates to more energy and better performance. A BOLT score below 20 seconds means you are an over breather, and will likely have some or all of the symptoms listed above.  A 5 second rise in your BOLT score will significantly improve how you feel. The goal of the Oxygen Advantage Program is to increase your BOLT score to above 40.

I can personally attest to the fact that I have more energy and endurance as my BOLT sore has risen.  My initial BOLT score was 16, and has doubled in just 2 months. Even if your BOLT score is close to 40, you will still get great benefit from reading this book and implementing the Oxygen Advantage Program.  It’s easy to do, and will bring big rewards, including better sleep, improved energy and endurance, a calmer and clearer mind, less sinus congestion, and improved detoxification. I think this is an important book and should be required reading for everyone.