Remember when you were a kid? All the weird challenges and contests you’d wage with your friends? There’s a good chance that breath-holding was one of them. Who can hold their breath the longest, right?
I was always good at this when I was young, but I’m not that young anymore. I’m 53, but I held my breath for two minutes and 47 seconds last Thursday. And I could have gone longer, but I was bored. My body wasn’t aching to breathe. My brain wanted to move on to something more stimulating than watching the stopwatch on my iPhone.
I’ll tell you how you can amaze your friends with championship breath-holding feats in a moment, but first, you should know why my 2:47 record is pretty amazing. I read recently that the average adult can hold his breath for only 30 to 40 seconds, so I blew that away. You can, too.
Election Year Debauchery
In case you missed it, I do a lot of political stuff. Especially in election years. In 2015 and 2016, I did more than usual. Besides blogging, rallying, traveling, knocking on doors, going to meetings, and keeping up on the latest news, election season also includes more drinking, periodic smoking, less sleep, horrible diets, and less exercise. In other words, at the end of an election cycle, I’m lucky to be able to breathe at all.
And, as I said, this past election cycle was more intense, if anything. I should also mention that I considered the election season over on January 20, not November 8.
So how did I manage to hold my breath for 2:47 just a week after my quadrennial debauchery ended?
5-Day Water Fast
You might be thinking I worked out, ran, ate nutritious foods, and all the other stuff you’re told will make you fit and strong.
That stuff might work, but that’s not what I did. Instead, I did nothing sort of.
Instead, I fasted on only water, a few cups of black coffee, and a few cups of green tea for five days. In other words, I consumed about 6 calories over a work week.
You’re probably wondering how fasting can help you dazzle your friends. And it’s all about energy.
Your Body Is Like a Car
Your car probably runs on a variety of fuel blends. Some cars can run on 85% ethanol. All gasoline cars can run on up to 100% petrol.
Your body runs on two kinds of fuel: glucose and ketones.
Glucose comes from carbohydrates like sugar and wheat. Ketones come from fats like olive oil and beef fat. Our bodies have evolved to work well in a variety of conditions.
But glucose and ketones do different things to our bodies over time. Just as high ethanol stresses your car’s engine more than petrol, glucose stresses your body more than ketones. For example, glucose gives off far more carbon dioxide exhaust than ketones do. And that’s the secret to holding your breath.
Why You Ache to Breathe
That terrible urge to take a breath doesn’t come from lack of oxygen in the blood. It comes from too much carbon dioxide. When your body is running on glucose and you hold your breath, your brain will scream for air very quickly. But when you’re running on ketones, your blood will have lots of room for CO2.
When you fast on water for an extended period, your body has to run on stored fat; aka, ketones. Depending on your diet before the fast, your sex, your weight, and your metabolism, it takes two or three days for your body to burn off all the spare glucose. In my case, I went into full ketosis on day 4 of the fast, Thursday. Your mileage may vary.
When I tried to hold my breath last Sunday, before I started the fast, I could get one minute, fourteen seconds (1:14) before it became very uncomfortable. My only exercise during the week was a daily 30-minutes walk/run on a treadmill, far less than my usual powerlifting workouts. Yet, in only 4 days, I increased my breath-holding abilities by more than 100%.
That’s because I had very low blood glucose levels by Thursday. I was running on the stored fat in my body.
Thursday and Friday Were Great Days
You might think I must have been lethargic, weak, and miserable after three days without food. But it was the opposite.
After one meal on Sunday and no food for four days, Thursday and Friday I felt fantastic. My senses were sharper than ever. I could smell things in the woods that I’d never smelled before in my life. When the wind changed direction, I smelled completely different things. These smells, which I could not identify, were interesting, not repulsive. Not necessarily delicious-smelling, either. Just a little fascinating because they were new.
My mind was sharp as a Ginsu knife. I had moments of hyperactivity followed by lulls, either. I got a lot done.
But the most amazing benefit from my fast was patience. I simply did not feel anger, frustration, or annoyance for those last two days despite numerous situations that usually drive me crazy. Like people who couldn’t operate a self-checkout scanner at Schnuck’s. Normally I want to yell at those people. During my fast, I simply watched and listened as the cashier explained the process. I felt like a grown-up.
For More on Fasting
I’m not a doctor, and a lot of doctors hate fasting. I think it’s because fasting offers amazing health benefits that hurt the healthcare establishment. You should learn more about fasting’s benefits, dangers, and history.
The best resource I’ve found is The Quantified Body podcast. If you’re interested, here are three recent blog entries, with links to the podcasts, that will let you know the science behind this amazing, free healthy process:
5-Day Mimicking Fast Results. This is a great method if you think a full water fast is too much.
Plus, here’s a great, fun post about someone else’s 5-day water fast. You’ll enjoy it.
Will You Try It?
Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in more on fasting. I find this potential lifesaving tool fascinating and enjoyable. I’ll write more about my experience and my research if it’s something you’d like to know more about. I’ve learned that fasting (and ketogenic diets) might help prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in addition to their proven suppression of diabetes, obesity, and most cancers. In fact, fasting has been shown to make traditional cancers way more effective and eliminate the horrible side effects of chemotherapy. Plus, ketogenic diets have effectively helped prevent epileptic seizures since the 1920s.
So let me know if you find this interesting and want to know more. I’ll hold my breath.
Also published on Medium.