Numerology: Inhale…Exhale

You do it over 23,000 times per day, but how much do you really know about breathing? Dig into these numbers that will tell you more about how your respiratory organs get the job done out on the trail, in the water and on your bike.


Average number of breaths per minute an elite athlete takes while running (compared to 12-15 while breathing at rest), according to Brian Mackenzie, a triathlete, coach and co-founder of the Power Speed Endurance training program. Most elite runners use a 2:2 breathing rate (inhaling for two steps and exhaling for two steps). Assuming one is running at the ideal stride rate of 90 strikes per minute, she is taking 45 breaths. Try different patterns (3:3 or 3:2) to see what works best for you at different paces.

24 minutes, 3.45 seconds

The Guinness World Record for the longest time breath has been held voluntarily. On February 28, 2016, Spaniard Aleix Segura Vendrell, set the record at the Mediterranean Dive Show. Vendrell is a freediver, the second most dangerous sport next to BASE jumping.


The number of square meters (more than half the size of a tennis court) the cellular walls of your pulmonary alveoli sacs would cover were they to be unfolded and laid open. Oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse through these walls—a delicate exchange between air and blood-carrying capillary vessels.


Percentage of oxygen that makes up an inhaled breath. The rest of the air you breathe is mostly nitrogen (78 percent) with small amounts of argon, neon, carbon dioxide, helium and hydrogen. The breath you exhale still contains roughly 15 percent oxygen, making CPR possible.


Percentage of people referred to National Jewish Hospital (the leading respiratory hospital in the U.S.) for asthma who don’t actually have asthma. Think you might? Do your research on vocal cord dysfunction (a similar serious respiratory disease) before puffing on inhalers for years on end.


Liters of oxygen 23-time Olympic swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps’ lungs can reportedly hold compared to the human average of six to eight liters. Swimmers statistically have higher lung volume capacities than other elite athletes. Scientists attribute this to swimmers holding their breath while they train and the fact they strengthen their respiratory muscles literally under pressure, which results in a greater chest wall elasticity.

The amount of normal oxygen intake a climber can inhale atop 29,029-foot Mount Everest (due to atmospheric pressure). About 95 percent of successful ascents on the world’s highest point have occured with the aid of oxygen (which costs about $1,000 per bottle).


The number of minutes the average person can hold her breath underwater compared to on land. In order to conserve oxygen and energy when submerged in cold water, humans slow their heart rates and metabolisms. This phenomenon is called the diving reflex. Professional divers can train to reduce their heart rates by 50 percent.


The number of minutes the average person can go without oxygen before brain damage sets in. Within eight to 10 minutes, brain damage can be irreversible. The Red Cross recommends giving two breaths following 30 chest compressions at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute when administering CPR to simulate breathing.


The VO2 Max measured for four-time Tour de France Champ and 2017 winner Chris Froome. Calculating just how efficient the lungs are with the oxygen they inhale, VO2 Max measures the maximum amount of oxygen a person can use during intense exercise in terms of milliliters of oxygen used in one minute per kilogram of body weight (ml/kg/min). An average human has a VO2 Max between 30-60. Record setting mountaineer Ed Viestrus once recorded a VO2 Max of 67. The highest V02 Max ever recorded came from Norwegian cyclist Oskar Svendsen who hit a 97.5. Matt Carpenter, who holds the course record for the Pikes Peak Marathon measured a 92. While most of the factors contributing to VO2 Max are hereditary, “a moderately fit runner can increase VO2 max by as much as 25 percent,” according to Runner’s World.


Weeks of practicing daily yogic and coherent breathing that it took for patients suffering from severe depression to feel psychological improvement and to exhibit higher levels of the inhibitory amino acid neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), according to a 2016 Boston University study. GABA can calm nervous activity, making for a happier human.


The average amount of fluid ounces of water humans exhale per hour at rest, according to a a 2012 article in the journal Polish Pneumonology and Allergology. That number can jump up to four times higher during hard exercise. The amount of water you exhale increases in freezing temperatures, which means it is essential to remember to drink water when exercising in the cold.

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