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Book Review: The Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown

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I had first heard of this book about four years ago when the author was doing some promotion for it, and I remember thinking it seemed interesting. Over the years, this book keeps being brought to my attention in various ways. Then I found myself in the summer of 2020 with one client that wants to explore breath work to possibly get into an altered state for reflection, another client who has sleep apnea and is open to trying to get off the CPAP machine and the debate of whether wearing a mask harms your health via retained CO2. These three ideas pushed me to finally purchase and read this book.

The book is broken out into four main parts.

The first is titled the Secret of Breath, which introduces the concepts and science. The premise being that humans are meant to breath through our noses and only need to recruit the mouth in times of duress. However, we have become a society of chronic mouth breathers and chronic over breathers. Excess oxygen can prematurely damage your tissues through the generation of excess free radicals. Over breathing causes the narrowing of airways and the constriction of blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow to the heart and other organs and muscles. The Bohr Effect is detailed, which explains that the amount of carbon dioxide present in our blood cells determines how much oxygen we can use. Opposite of what most of us were taught or believe. This part also introduces the reader to the BOLT score, a measure of how efficiently your body uses oxygen. It is a simple exercise you can test on yourself.

Part two of the book is titled the Secret of Fitness, it introduces and discusses the use of techniques for enhanced performance, what many Olympic athletes do and how to simulate high-altitude training when you cannot actually be at high altitude. Benefits including increasing your VO2 max or endurance potential.

Part three is the Secret of Health. It explores how improved breathing leads to weight loss, reduced sports injuries, the relationship between oxygenation and improved heart function. It also provides tools to eliminate exercise-induced asthma for those prone to it.

The last part is called Your Oxygen Advantage program, and provides a number of programs to follow depending on your personal situation and need, providing simple diagrams and graphics to assist you on your journey.

As I write this review, and as a result of reading this book, I have been taping my mouth while I sleep for two months to train my body to nose breath. While there are many factors that can influence respiratory rate, I have noticed a general decline in my respiratory rate while sleeping as tracked by my Oura ring. Meaning, I am taking less breathes and actually oxygenating my body more. I have been more conscious of nasal breathing throughout the day. It took a few weeks of training, but I can now complete a HIIT strength training session only breathing through my nose. Next up is improving my CO2 capacity such that I can take more paces with a breath hold. Thus far I can only walk 18 paces or jog for 6 with holding my breath.

The BOLT score mentioned above is from 0 to 40 seconds. I started out with a decent score of 21 seconds and have thus far increased it to the mid-to-high 20’s, day dependent, with the goal of getting as close to 40 seconds as possible.

The client I mentioned earlier has tried going a few nights per week without wearing their CPAP machine, thus far with no deleterious effects. No notice of gasping for air by their partner, no tiredness in the morning etc. They were impressed enough to buy this book themselves.

Breath work is so important for stress release and resetting our parasympathetic nervous system and is something that I have been using with my clients for years and include in my corporate presentations, however, these techniques are so simple to use I have now begun to incorporate them with my clients as another breath tool in the health arsenal.

I would recommend this book for anyone wanting to improve their health and performance. I have certainly become more aware of all the mouth breathers out there and have started to work on some of these techniques with my children for benefits related to their development that I haven’t even addressed in this review.

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