The average person can hold their breath for 30–90 seconds. This time can increase or decrease due to various factors, such as smoking, underlying medical conditions, or breath training.
The length of time a person can hold their breath voluntarily typically ranges from 30 to 90 secondsTrusted Source.
A person can practice breath-holding to increase their lung capacity, and there are training guidelines to help individuals learn to hold their breath for longer periods. Training usually takes several months.
People may use these training techniques for advanced military training, free diving, swimming, or other recreational activities.
This article will look at the physical effects of breath-holding, its benefits, risks, and increasing lung capacity.
What happens when you hold your breath?
A person needs oxygen for their body to perform vital functions, and holding in a breath prevents new oxygen from entering the body.
When people hold their breath, the body is still using oxygen to function and releases carbon dioxide as a waste product.
Because carbon dioxide has nowhere to go, its levels within the body increase, eventually triggering the involuntary reflex to start breathing again.
At first, a person may feel a burning sensation in their lungs. If they hold their breath long enough, the muscles in their diaphragm will begin to contract to try to force breathing, which can cause pain.
If an individual does not resume their usual breathing pattern, they will lose consciousness, and if they are in a safe location, the body should automatically begin to breathe and start to get the oxygen it needs.
Should a person not be in a safe location, such as underwater, it is at this time that drowning may occur.
Benefits of breath-holding
Holding in a breath may have some benefits for a person’s health. Evidence suggests that increasing lung function and the amount of time a person can hold their breath may:
- positively impactTrusted Source inflammation, which may be important for autoimmune conditions
- help increaseTrusted the Source of a person’s life span and prevent damage to stem cells in the brain
Risks of breath-holding
A person can hold their breath safely when outside of water and in a safe environment, and most cases, they will give in to their body’s responses to lack of oxygen before they pass out.
When a person is underwater and gives in to their body’s natural responses to breathe, the lungs will fill with water, and the person may need emergency lifesaving treatment to prevent a fatal outcome.
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source reported on accidental drownings from dangerous underwater breath-holding behaviours. These included social games, such as breath-holding challenges and training exercises.
The report identified that two men in the training process for advanced military testing had drowned after passing out underwater. They had passed out due to the reduced pressure from the oxygen in their blood.
Other risk factors
Unless a person holding their breath is underwater or in an equally dangerous environment, they are not in any imminent danger.
However, according to the Journal of Applied Physiology, some additional risks may include:
- increase in blood pressure
- increased risk of brain damage
- loss of coordination
- reduced heart rate
- increase in blood sugar levels
How to increase lung capacity
If a person is interested in increasing their lung capacity, they can train their bodies and lungs to go without oxygen for increasingly long periods.
Divers may use trusted Source apnea training to help them increase their lung capacity. The idea behind the training is to gradually increase a person’s ability to hold their breath by alternating between breathing and breath-holding for a set number of minutes.
Before attempting to increase their lung capacity, a person should seek guidance from their healthcare provider and consider training with professional diving experts and those knowledgeable about lifesaving techniques.
A person can typically hold their breath for a few seconds to a little over a minute before the urge to breathe again becomes too strong.
Individuals can increase their lung capacity by practising holding their breath for longer periods.
In addition to the recreational or professional benefits of an increased lung capacity, a person may experience additional health benefits from breath-holding.
If practising in water, an individual should consider their safety. This could include swimming with others and having someone close who can perform lifesaving techniques should they become unconscious.