According to an Indian saying: “We come to this life with a set number of breaths. By breathing slower, we live longer.” Whether there is truth to that, I don’t know, but there is definitely sufficient evidence to support that there are breathing exercises with anti-aging effects.
In order to determine whether any intervention works we need to first objectively assess our health state. Measuring our biological age should be the first step if we are interested in slowing down or reversing our age. The Glycanage test is my choice of preference. Glycanage measures a series of immune markers, in our bloodstream, reflecting the biological age of our immune system. My most recent results are displayed in the image above.
Breathwork consists of 2 pillars, both of which have anti-aging effects: Hypoxia & Hypercapnia. In order to access the therapeutic effects of breathwork one needs to acheive these 2 states. Exercises that involve diaphragmatic or slow breathing, while still useful, are not going to have an effect potent enough to slow down aging.
Hypoxia regulates stem cell biology
Under hypoxia – a state where oxygen saturation in the blood is temporarily reduced – the body triggers a domino of processes [ref], often referred to as the diving reflex [ref]. In a nutshell: due to the reduction of oxygen availability, the body adapts by improving its ability to circulate oxygen and deliver it to peripheral organs, including the brain [ref].
EPO hormone’s benefits in human physiology are well researched [ref], and positive outcomes have been reported in healthy and chronically ill subjects.
CO2 tolerance: the cornerstone of healthy breathing
While hypoxia will enhance oxygen delivery for a few hours after the practice, hypercapnic training is what will keep your body well oxygenated at all times. There are many exercises that can get you into hypercapnia but ultimately training needs to be tailored to the individuals metabolic, biomechanical and respiratory capacity.
The reason why CO2 training is so improtant is because CO2 works synergistically with O2 in the body (due to the Bohr effect). A key component of CO2 training is to maintain nasal breathing at all times.
The implications of nasal breathing are far reaching, and beyond the scope of this article, but just keep in mind that nasal breathing at night will increase your production of Growth Hormone [ref]. Growth Hormone is used in Hormone Replacement Thrapy (HRT) for its antiaging properties. How useful would it be if you were to increase your Growth Hormone production by changing the way you breathe?
What does it take to reverse aging naturally?
Aging is part of life and should be honored similar to all other natural processes. If however, you want to look and feel good as you age, a proactive approach is needed. Anti-aging breathing exercises are part of my protocol keeping myself and my clients young. Please don’t underestimate the need for work, however. Regular practice is needed in order to gain benefits.
Breathing techniques that involve hyperventilation (such as the Wim Hof Breathing) should not be considered breathwork or expected to have anti-aging properties.
Abdollahi, H., Harris, L. J., Zhang, P., McIlhenny, S., Srinivas, V., Tulenko, T., & DiMuzio, P. J. (2011). The role of hypoxia in stem cell differentiation and therapeutics. Journal of Surgical Research, 165(1), 112-117.
Elia, A., Barlow, M. J., Deighton, K., Wilson, O. J., & O’Hara, J. P. (2019). Erythropoietic responses to a series of repeated maximal dynamic and static apnoeas in elite and non-breath-hold divers. European journal of applied physiology, 119(11), 2557-2565.
Kjeld, T., Pott, F. C., & Secher, N. H. (2009). Facial immersion in cold water enhances cerebral blood velocity during breath-hold exercise in humans. Journal of Applied Physiology, 106(4), 1243-1248.
Rey, F., Balsari, A., Giallongo, T., Ottolenghi, S., Di Giulio, A. M., Samaja, M., & Carelli, S. (2019). Erythropoietin as a neuroprotective molecule: an overview of its therapeutic potential in neurodegenerative diseases. ASN neuro, 11, 1759091419871420.
Triana, B. E. G., Ali, A. H., & León, I. G. (2016). Mouth breathing and its relationship to some oral and medical conditions: physiopathological mechanisms involved. Revista Habanera de Ciencias Médicas, 15(2), 200-212.