(Article originally appeared on Fitbit.com)
Americans will spend over 10 billion dollars this year on coffee and energy drinks. It’s clear, you need an energy boost, but you don’t need to bombard your body with caffeine, load up the landfills with cups and cans, or spend your hard earned cash. What you really need is a shot of oxygen.
Breathing is simple, free, and you can do it anywhere! But to get the biggest energy boost you’ve got to breathe the right way. According to Patrick McKeown, author of The Oxygen Advantage, breathing more is “exactly the wrong thing to do.” Strange as it may seem, over-breathing could reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood.
The problem isn’t a lack of oxygen, says McKeown, “but that not enough oxygen is released into tissues and organs, including the brain.” The result is a tired, sluggish you—and maybe even a missed deadline or a skipped workout. So why aren’t you getting enough energy-boosting oxygen into your cells?
Carbon Dioxide is the Key
You may have been trained to think of carbon dioxide (CO2) as oxygen’s evil alter ego—just a waste gas—but that assumption is dead wrong. “Carbon dioxide is the key variable that releases oxygen from red blood cells,” McKeown explains.
Carbon dioxide gives hemoglobin the green light to pass oxygen along to the body’s cells. When you take fewer breaths and breathe easier, you’ll have all the oxygen and energy you need to thrive.
5-Minute Breathing Exercise
This counterintuitive exercise, adapted McKeown’s book, will allow you to get the most oxygen out of the air you breathe:
- Sit up straight with your shoulders relaxed, neck lengthened.
- Put one hand on your chest and the other above your bellybutton. Feel your stomach pressing out as you inhale, and moving inward as you exhale.
- Gently press your hands against your abdomen and chest to create resistance.
- Breathe against your hands, gradually reducing the size of each breath.
- Inhale less air with each breath and until you have a tolerable air-hunger, making sure to stay in control of your breath.
- Pause at the end of each exhale. Then, repeat. (If you find yourself gasping for air, you are holding your breath too long—reset with a full breath and try again.)
Continue this breathing exercise for 3 to 5 minutes and aim to maintain a tolerable air hunger. “Practicing 2 sets of 5-minute exercises is enough to reset your breathing center and improve your body’s tolerance for carbon dioxide,” says McKeown.
If you’re doing it right, you’ll feel warmer, you’ll have more saliva, and you might even blush—all of which are signs of increased carbon dioxide. Stick to this simple practice and you’ll have enough natural energy to tackle your entire to-do list and fit in a workout! You might even be able to kiss coffee goodbye.