Breathing and longevity

Why some people get very old and others die at an early age have puzzled us for a long time. We try all sorts of things to slow down the ageing process and increase our longevity. But how do we know what works and what doesn’t? 

Ageing can be considered as a progressive failure in the ability to maintain tissue homeostasis (i.e. normal, balanced functioning), leading to health decline and the emergence of age-related diseases. 

One ageing theory suggests that a lower metabolic rate means longer life span and higher metabolic rate means a shorter life span, i.e. “live fast, die young”. Think of an elefant that can become 80 years old and has a slow metabolism versus a mouse that can only become 2-3 years old, with a fast metabolic rate. Another (maybe more) interesting theory is that of carbon dioxide (CO2) tolerance. 

If we look at the oldest animals in the world, some species can live for 100's of years! E.g. the Greenland shark can become 300-500 years old and the bowhead whale some 200 years. They have in common that they live in ice-cold Arctic waters, rich in CO2 (i.e. more than 50 times more CO2 than the air contains), therefore having a high CO2 tolerance and they have a slow respiration.

An optimum carbon dioxide pressure is needed in order to oxygenate our body in the most efficient way. More CO2 tolerance lowers pH, which reduces haemoglobin affinity for oxygen and the O2 is released from the blood to the cells. 

Too low CO2 pressure decreases our ability to burn fat and reduces antioxidant activity (a.o.), which in turn contributes to increased so called oxidative stress, triggering all kinds of (a.o. auto-immune) diseases, causing a shorter life span. 

There are two main ways to increase the levels of CO2 in your body; reduce the outflow and increase the production. When you slow down your breathing less CO2 is lost via exhalation and when you do physical activity, more CO2 is produced as your metabolism increases. A great way is to combine the two; e.g. low intense physical activity while only breathing through your nose. Over time the carbon dioxide tolerance training will reset the breathing center in your brain stem and make you tolerate higher and higher levels of CO2, which in turn may help you to live a healthier and longer life!

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