We have all heard of young athletes who at their peak of physical fitness suddenly die of heart failure while training. It's always an extremely sad state of affairs, especially when there are seemingly no answers as to why such physiologically superior people are suddenly stuck down. A relatively new thought on why this may be happening is that improper breathing during exercise may play a large part in causing heart attack leading to death.
There is no debate that the quality of food and water we consume are going to substantially affect our health. But the air we breathe is at least equal in importance, and not just the air's purity. And when athletes in training start breathing hard through physical exertion, they typically start breathing through the mouth and not the nose. We are finding that this is causing health problems on a number of levels.
Just what happens when a high-level athlete, or for that matter matter anyone starts breathing through the mouth as opposed to through the nose? It's now thought that the heavier volume of air rushing into the lungs causes a disturbance with blood gases, and importantly the loss of carbon dioxide. Even though we breathe carbon dioxide out of our lungs, it is not a waste gas. We have to always maintain some carbon dioxide in our lungs.
Should we lose CO2, muscles around the airways constrict and the inner walls of the airways become dehydrated. When these things happen the air passages get smaller, of course limiting air passage. Lack of carbon dioxide also establishes the muscles surrounding blood vessels, limiting the passage of blood at a time when blood is needed by the body. This restriction of air and blood trigger the athlete to breathe even more intensely through the mouth to compensate for the lost air.
The heart is no different than any muscle in the body and needs oxygen to do its job. When it gets insufficient blood flow and oxygen, it can start to disrupt its electrocardiogram impulses, setting off a heartbeat that is completely chaotic or may stop altogether. When most organs are depleted of oxygen there may not be such an immediate shutting down of the entire body. But when the heart stops the situation can become grave very quickly.
The goal for all of us, including of course anyone who trains intensely is stop breathing through the mouth and start breathing through the nose. Space here will not permit me to elaborate on some of the exercises that will get you into the habit of breathing through your nose when you feel the only way you can get adequate air is to gasp for breath. But the point here is to recognize the importance of breathing through the nose in controlled breaths and the dangers in gasping for breath through the mouth.
One method of breathing that is becoming quite noteworthy is the Buteyko Breathing Method of breathing, and its concept called the control pause. It teaches a person to control breathing by providing feedback for a person's relative breathing volume. It is not only helpful to keep you healthy when exercising, but can help with anxiety, sleep apnea and other issues.