By Dr. Phil Maffetone
In the new 5th edition of “In Fitness and In Health,” I discuss many simple ways to evaluate various aspect of your health. This includes simple measurements such as body pH, evaluating your breathing and many questions pertaining to a variety of common signs and symptoms usually ignored by doctors. This is an important part of the overall philosophy of self-health care. In this first article, I’ll discuss breathing tests.
Earlier editions of the book contained other tests not contained in the new book, but just as valuable. I’ll highlight them in this mini series on Measuring Fitness & Health. They include other important breathing tests, making sense of other blood pressure numbers, a simple Step Test, the cold pressor test, morning pulse and the axillary temperature.
Physical, chemical and mental imbalances often develop over time in most people. These problems occur less in a healthy body, mainly because of the innate ability of the body to correct its own problems (often before you even notice them). If this does not happen, a variety of subtle clues may emerge, even before more obvious signs and symptoms develop. You don’t want to wait until you develop more serious problems before realizing there’s something wrong. Measuring certain aspects of your body can help you find weak areas, enabling you to not only correct them but improve overall fitness and health — sometimes dramatically.
This series of articles will include some general tests you can easily perform at home or have done by a professional due to the need for special equipment. It’s important that you record the results of all these tests, including those a health-care professional may perform during a routine exam.
None of these tests are meant to replace the ones your health-care professional may wish to do. And, they are most accurate when viewed together, especially in conjunction with other standard diagnostic tests. The result of one test is not as meaningful as seeing the same test results over two or three consecutive days, weeks or months.
As discussed in the new “In Fitness and In Health,” one of the most important muscles in your body is the diaphragm. This large flat muscle, which allows us to breathe, makes up both the floor of the chest cavity and the roof of the intestinal cavity. There are three general tests we can use to measure the effectiveness of the diaphragm muscle. Poor breathing potentially is associated with a diaphragm problem, but also can be a reflection of overall poor health.
1. Breath-Holding Time is a simple test that measures the overall function of the diaphragm. It’s simple to perform. Take a deep breath and see how long you can hold it. This test is best performed while standing and with an empty stomach. Anyone in good health should be able to hold the breath for at least 50 seconds. If you can’t, it may indicate some functional problem, as discussed below.
2. Another test related to the diaphragm is Snider’s Test, which measures the strength of the diaphragm using the power in the breath. Carefully hold a lit match six inches away from your mouth. With your mouth wide open, try to blow the match out. You should be able to do so easily. (Don’t burn your hair!)
3. The Vital Capacity is a good test for measuring general diaphragm function, and is related to lung capacity. Vital capacity can be measured with a hand‑held spirometer, or with more accurate units that also measure the rate of expired air. Many health professionals have this equipment. The spirometer measures, in cubic centimeters (cc), the amount of air that you can force out of the lungs. This figure can be converted to a percentage of normal capacity, as related to your height. This conversion can be made by your doctor or calculated by the charts that accompany spirometers. You should be at least 85 percent to 110 percent on a scale that goes as high as 120 percent. Vital capacity is directly related to physiological age: the lower the vital capacity, the older you are physiologically, and vice versa.
Poor breathing function as indicated by any of these tests usually indicates a diaphragm muscle weakness. Often, it’s due to improper breathing, a topic discussed in detail in the new book. This can be remedied by re-learning to breathe properly.
Poor breathing is often associated with asthma. This is sometimes called exercise-induced asthma (they’re both the same problem). In cases that are not so obvious, measuring vital capacity at rest then again after an easy jog-in-place would show a worsening of lung capacity after exertion. In a healthy person, slight exertion should improve lung capacity. Asthma and ways to reduce or eliminate it are also discussed in the new book, including the use of the nutrient choline.
Other nutrients may also be related to poor diaphragm function, including low doses of vitamin B1.
Easy aerobic exercises won’t always correct a diaphragm problem, but will usually maintain it once it is corrected.