Reduce the load

Take a load off your airways by breathing more normally

Hyperventilation, or an unnaturally high breathing pattern, is frequently thought of as the type of breathing that might occur with stage fright or a panic attack, yet it can be far more subtle than this, and still cause lots of problems.

The average adult only needs to breathe about 12 times a minute while resting, with a little less than half a litre inhaled each time, which allows 4 - 6 litres of air to sweep through the lungs each minute.

Breathing twenty times a minute (once every 3 seconds, instead of the average 5 seconds) would cause 8—10 litres of air to be breathed. No one notices if they breathe every 3 seconds instead of every 5 but the body suffers because carbon dioxide in the lungs and bloodstream is lowered, and even on this subtle scale, in a week 40,000 litres of extra air will have been inhaled.

I can't imagine how much dust, pollen, germs and pollution are in 40,000 litres of air, but I imagine that it's a lot, and it irritates and sandblasts your airways in every breathe. It also means that all your airways – nose, throat and lungs - are going to have to work overtime to moisten, warm and clean this extra air.

Just by breathing a little bit faster than normal, you wash out a lot of extra carbon dioxide, and in order to stop this valuable commodity from getting too low, the airways become more efficient at slowing the loss. They do this by narrowing the airways in some way – usually internal swelling, extra mucus and tightening of smooth muscles around the small airways. If this doesn't work then you might develop nasal polyps, or tonsils might swell in an effort to reduce the loss.

The next time you sit down with a cup of tea have a think about how you breathe at this time. Is it possible for you to breathe less vigorously and slightly slower? Without becoming obsessive about your breathing, perhaps you can also think about how you breathe while you watch TV, read a book, or answer your email? By changing your breathing in a subtle way while sitting in a chair, you might do yourself a whole lot more good than you imagine is possible.