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April 2007 Vol. 22, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Heavy Breather? Add 15 Minutes to Your Underwater Time

from the April, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

If you’re a heavy breather who runs out of air before everyone else, you can breathe easier – literally. A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology finds that you can increase your respiratory strength – and your underwater time – with breathing exercises.

Claes E. G. Lundgren, a physiologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo, assigned 30 healthy young men to three groups: a placebo group that did breath-holding exercises; a resistance respiratory muscle- training group that did exercises breathing in and out against pressure; an endurance respiratory muscletraining group that performed exercises to progressively increase breathing frequency. They did the exercises for 30 minutes, five days a week. After four weeks of training, the men in the resistance training group were able to swim 66 percent longer underwater with scuba gear and 33 percent longer on the surface using a snorkel, and they also decreased their underwater breathing frequency by 23 percent. The endurance respiratory muscle training group showed a 26 percent increase in underwater endurance and a 38 percent increase in surface endurance. Both groups increased the amount of air they breathed in and out. The breath-holding placebo group showed no significant improvements. (More about exactly what to do with breathing exercises in a future issue of Undercurrent.)

However, staying underwater longer doesn’t come without risks. The more you dive, the more you may be at risk of developing lung dysfunction. Studies of commercial divers’ lung functions show that continued scuba diving decreases the volume of air forced out after taking a deep breath (FEV1).

Research reported in the International Journal of Sports Medicine reported decreases in the average rate of airflow during the middle portion of a forced exhalation, suggesting slight, small airways disease in older experienced recreational divers.

And, if you’re a smoker, well, the problems only get worse. A study reported in the journal Chest tracked FEV1 in military scuba divers, both smokers and nonsmokers, over five years. The combined exposure to diving and smoking resulted in a significant decrease in lung function. Nonsmoking recreational divers don’t appear at substantially increased risk for obstructive lung disease.

Of course, about the only people in the world who don’t know that continued smoking is associated with impaired pulmonary function are all in Borat’s immediate family. Still, have you noticed how many dive guides light up after a dive?

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