The average person can hold their breath anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
According to Guinness World Records, Aleix Segura Vendrell of Barcelona, Spain, set the bar high at 24 minutes and 3 seconds in February 2016.
First, ask yourself, why do you want to learn how to hold your breath longer?
For a surfer or anyone who is actively around water all the time, learning how to hold your breath longer can save your life.
There is also a more meditative aspect to learning how to hold your breath longer. Ask any freediving enthusiast how their life has changed since learning how to hold their breath longer. They'll almost immediately tell you about the surreal and life changing experiences they've had while being underwater.
Almost the first thing you might think about before learning how to hold your breath longer is that it's about struggling. Conquering the horrible feeling of being suffocated. When in fact, learning how to hold your breath longer is nothing about this panic feeling.
When you take any freediving course on how to hold your breath longer, you'll quickly realize holding your breath for up to 2-3 minutes at a time isn't as daunting as it seems.
In fact, when you prepare to hold you breath for a long time, you're doing a lot of different breathing exercises to increase the oxygen levels throughout your body. Developing a more relaxed and peaceful state. A state of being allowing you to calming hold your breath, eliminate panic, and creating a blissful experience for holding your breath.
NOTE: Learning how to hold your breath should only be done under the guidance of a professional. If learning how to hold your breath longer is on your bucket list, definitely find a freediving course near you. They generally last a few days and will change your life.
Before you learn how to hold your breath longer, you first need to understand what’s happening in your body. What the possible dangers and side effects are, and how to be safe.
If you're ever practicing holding your breath under water, always do so with someone else. A shallow water blackout is ever so common among people first learning how to hold their breath longer.
On this page:
What happens when you hold your breath
Here’s what happens to your body when you hold your breath. The times are approximate:
- 0:00 to 0:30. You might feel relaxed as you close your eyes and tune out the world around you.
- 0:30 to 2:00. You’ll start to feel uncomfortable pain in your lungs.
The most common misconception about holding your breath is that you’re running out of air — you’re not. Learning to slow your breathing and increase intake during inhalation is part of this. But holding your breath is difficult and dangerous because carbon dioxide (CO₂) is building up in your blood from not exhaling.
- 2:00 to 3:00. Your stomach starts to rapidly convulse and contract.
This is because your diaphragm is trying to force you to take a breath.
- 3:00 to 5:00. You’ll begin to feel lightheaded.
As CO₂ builds to higher and higher levels, it pushes the oxygen out of your bloodstream and reduces the amount of oxygenated blood traveling to your brain.
- 5:00 to 6:00. Your body will start to shake as your muscles begin to uncontrollably contract.
This is when holding your breath can become dangerous.
- 6:00 and longer. You’ll black out.
Your brain badly needs oxygen, so it knocks you unconscious so your automatic breathing mechanisms will kick back in. If you’re underwater, you’ll probably inhale water into your lungs, which is life threatening.
Side effects of holding your breath
Holding your breath too long can have some side effects:
- low heart rate from a lack of oxygen
- CO₂ buildup in your bloodstream
- nitrogen narcosis which is a dangerous buildup of nitrogen gases in your blood that can make you feel disoriented or inebriated (common among deep-sea divers)
- decompression sickness, which occurs when nitrogen in your blood forms bubbles in your bloodstream instead of clearing out of your blood when water pressure decreases (called “the bends” among divers)
- loss of consciousness, or blacking out
- pulmonary edema, when fluid builds up in the lungs
- alveolar hemorrhage, or bleeding in your lungs
- lung injury that can lead to total lung collapse
- complete loss of blood flow to the heart, which can cause your heart to stop pumping (cardiac arrest)
- buildup of dangerous reactive oxygen species (ROS), which happens due to long periods of low oxygen then breathing oxygen back in at high levels, which can damage DNA
- brain damage from a protein called S100B that breaks out from your bloodstream into your brain through the blood-brain barrier when your cells are damaged
Can you die from holding your breath?
Yes, but not if you’re above water.
When you black out, your body automatically starts breathing again. Your lungs will gasp for air since you’re programmed to inhale and exhale, even if you’re unconscious (like when you sleep).
If you’re underwater, the gasp for air may let in a huge volume of water.
Inhaling water isn’t always fatal if you’re resuscitated by CPR or have the water pumped out of your lungs by emergency responders.
But in most cases, blacking out underwater from holding your breath is deadly.
The benefits of learning how to hold your breath longer
Holding your breath, as well as generally improving breathing and lung function, has useful, potentially lifesaving benefits, including:
- increasing life span by preserving the health of stem cells
- possible regeneration of new tissue in the brain to preserve brain function (this is
- theoretical in humans, though; studies have only been done on salamanders)
- increasing resistance to bacterial infections
- learning how to make yourself feel relaxed
How to hold your breath longer underwater
If you’re interested in holding your breath longer, be sure to go slowly. Use common sense: Stop and breathe normally if you’re feeling dizzy or have any of the symptoms of oxygen deprivation.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for learning how to hold your breath longer:
- Learn how to take a deep, full breath. This involves your belly moving up and down rather than your shoulders and chest. A full deep inhalation usually takes about 20 seconds before you exhale.
- Do exercises to increase your lung capacity. Try box breathing or diaphragmatic breathing.
Learn to hold your deep breaths according to CO₂ static apnea tables. Often used by free divers, this practice consists of holding your breath for 1 minute and then resting by breathing normally for 90 seconds, then repeating that hold for another minute. You then gradually reduce your normal breathing rests by 15 seconds each time.
- Learn to store oxygen by following oxygen tables. It consists of holding your breath for 1 minute, breathing normally for 2 minutes, and then increasing how long you hold your breath by 15 seconds between each rest, which remains 2 minutes each time.
- Alternate between CO₂ static apnea and oxygen table exercises each day. Take a few hours off between each exercise.
- Gradually increase the amount of time you hold your breath in your oxygen exercise by 15-second increments. Don’t rush this part. Hold your breath until you start to feel symptoms, like lightheadedness. Increase your times as you feel safe and comfortable.
- Be still! Both mentally and physically. Moving uses oxygen in your blood, so staying still when you hold your breath preserves the oxygen you’re holding in. You can also try to slow your heart rate using vagal maneuvers.
Your lung capacity is the total amount of air that your lungs can hold. Over time, our lung capacity and lung function typically decrease slowly as we age after our mid-20s.
Additional exercises for learning how to hold your breath longer
Fortunately, there are exercises that can help maintain and increase lung capacity, making it easier to keep your lungs healthy and get your body the oxygen it needs.
1. Diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” engages the diaphragm, which is supposed to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to breathing.
This technique is particularly helpful in people with COPD, as the diaphragm isn’t as effective in these individuals and could be strengthened. The technique best used when feeling rested.
If you have COPD, ask your doctor or respiratory therapist to show you how to use this exercise for best results.
According to the COPD Foundation, you should do the following to practice diaphragmatic breathing:
- Relax your shoulders and sit back or lie down.
- Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
- Inhale through your nose for two seconds, feeling the air move into your abdomen and feeling your stomach move out. Your stomach should move more than your chest does.
- Breath out for two seconds through pursed lips while pressing on your abdomen.
2. Pursed-lips breathing
Pursed-lips breathing can slow down your breathing, reducing the work of breathing by keeping your airways open longer. This makes it easier for the lungs to function and improves the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
This breathing exercise is often easier for beginners than diaphragmatic breathing, and you can do it at home even if no one shows you how in person. It can be practiced at any time.
To practice the pursed-lips breathing technique:
- Inhale slowly through your nostrils.
- Purse your lips, as if pouting or about to blow on something.
- Breath out as slowly as possible through pursed lips. This should take at least twice as long as it did to breath in.
How to keep your lungs healthy so you can hold your breath longer
Prevention is the best medicine, and working to keep your lungs healthy is much more efficient than trying to repair them after something goes wrong.
To keep your lungs healthy, do the following:
- Stop smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke or environmental irritants.
- Eat foods rich in antioxidants.
- Get vaccinations like the flu vaccine and the pneumonia vaccine. This can help prevent lung infections and promote lung health.
- Exercise more frequently, which can help your lungs function properly.
- Improve indoor air quality. Use tools like indoor air filters and reduce pollutants like artificial fragrances, mold, and dust.
Final thoughts on learning how to hold your breathe longer
learning how to hold your breath longer isn't just about showing off. It can save your life, have health benefits, and create new experiences underwater.
If you’d like to learn how to hold your breath longer, don’t try to do it all by yourself. One of many valuable beginner surfing tips you'll learn is learning how to hold your breath It can be harmful or deadly if not done with safety in mind. Take your time, and try different techniques to see what works for you.