Concept #1 - It's all about maintaining optimal balance. Many people have a misguided view of the respiratory system and its primary function. To keep this simple, consider the respiratory system as having three distinct, but intertwined objectives: 1. Breathing should supply optimal O2 to the tissues. 2. Breathing should maintain optimal CO2 levels in the blood. 3. Breathing should assist in maintaining optimal body pH balance.
Concept #2 - Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide are equally important. As you know, oxygen is a primary fuel for all cellular activities in the human body - thus oxygen is essential. However, few people realize that CO2 is also essential. Oxygen is transported throughout the body via hemoglobin. However, if the CO2 levels of the body are too low, oxygen binds more strongly to its carrier hemoglobin and cannot then reach the cells that so badly need it. An athlete need to understand that there is more to this process than - Oxygen=Good, CO2=Bad!
Concept #3 - Carbon Dioxide is primarily responsible for blood pH levels. The pH levels of the body are hypercritical for survival and the healthy ranges for blood pH are extremely small. In fact, the acceptable range for blood pH is between 7.35 and 7.45. pH levels outside of this range can seriously impact all body functions. The acidity of the blood, and subsequent pH levels, are largely determined by the amount of CO2 in the body, which is produced by aerobic metabolism. As CO2 levels go up (perhaps from exercise) the blood becomes more acidic unless more CO2 is excreted.
Concept #4 - CO2 levels are responsible for the neural drive to breathe and breathing volumes. Changes in breathing volume are very tightly tied to CO2 levels. Higher CO2 levels immediately stimulate the neural centers governing breathing to cause a higher volume of air to be inhaled. The nervous system perceives the rise in CO2 as a survival threat and requires an immediate and massive reaction to remedy the problem. In exercise, this works out nicely using this formula:
Increased activity = High CO2 = High Acidity = Low pH = Higher Breathing Drive
Rest and reduced exertion on the other hand follows an inverse formula: Decreased activity = Low CO2 = Low Acidity = High pH = Lower Breathing Drive
Concept #5 - Breathing changes create extremely fast adaptations in the body. Because the pH levels of the body are regulated so strongly, changes occur very quickly.Studies indicate that as few as 5-6 breaths can imbalance the body pH levels. Plus,breathing incorrectly for 3 minutes or more can decrease blood oxygenation levels by up to 30%.
Concept #6 - Chronic hyperventilation is the primary response of many individuals to ongoing elevated threat levels. High levels of threat (physical, emotional, structural, etc) all create a preparatory state of increased respiration. This makes perfect survival sense as the increased breathing rate will create a slight alkaline bias in the blood. This in turn will help offset the surge of acid that will accompany the ACTION required to meet the threat. However, if there is no true threat to address via movement or action, this preparatory hyperventilation creates a cascade of events that can ultimately create a chronic state of hyperventilation.
Here is what the process looks like step-by-step:
1. Threat levels rise which creates a preparatory increased rate of respiration. 2. Increased threat levels also result in an increase in adrenaline in the body. 3. Under these two conditions, the body's sensitivity to CO2 can increase by up to 30%. 4. If there is no subsequent action or increase in activity to help excrete the CO2 an alkaline body pH will develop. 5. Chronic stimulation of the process will alter both the lungs and the kidneys regulatory controls of body pH setting a new equilibrium based on the assumption that the overbreathing will continue. The SAID Principle in action!
Concept #7 - Chronic hyperventilation impacts strongly on the neuromusculoskeletal system. There are over 20 muscles and numerous joints involved in the act of breathing. Poor breathing mechanics and overbreathing can have a dramatic impact on overall body function. Plus, breathing is an incredibly high volume activity. Normal breath rates range from 10-14 per minute. This results in 20- 22,000 breaths per day and 140,000-154,000 breaths per week.
In the neuromusculoskeletal system, the classic signs of poor breathing practices include: - Mouth breathing - Anterior Head Carriage - Rounded Shoulders, - Thoracic Hyperkyphosis - Rigid Spinal Joints
Concept #8 - The signs of chronic hyperventilation mimic many other conditions so assessment is key.
Severe hyperventilation is usually accompanied by: - Breathlessness - Anxiety - Panic - Muscle Spasms - Muscle Cramping and Tetany - Light-headedness