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 Oxygen: breath of life

Of all the many functions that our body performs – digestion, excretion, reproduction, movement, thought, thermoregulation, and sensory awareness – oxygen transport is the most central and critical.
Oxygen is the spark that allows our enzymes – the energy generating catalytic converters inside our cells – to combust food in order to fuel the human machine.

We should be eternally grateful to plants; they are our oxygen source. We exist and thrive only because of the results of their thankless task of converting carbon dioxide into abundant oxygen through the miraculous process of photosynthesis.

What’s your oxygen intake?

Exercise physiologists are able to measure our oxygen consumption. Such measurement is called VO2 Max. The technique for deriving this number involves applying a nose clip, and then placing a mouthpiece connected to a collection receptacle. Then the individual starts on an increasingly-vigorous exercise protocol on a stationary bicycle or treadmill, or merely running around the block.

Our body’s ability to extract oxygen from the atmosphere goes up with each increased amount of exertion until it reaches a maximal value, our VO2 Max level.

This number represents the body’s best capacity to suck oxygen from the air, conduct it through the large respiratory passages to the lungs, then to the heart and big blood vessels, onto the arteries and arterioles, to the capillaries, and across to the cell membranes.
Eventually, oxygen arrives at the tiny mitochondria in the cells, which are our ultimate micro-engines, responsible for generating energy. This multi-step transport system has a functional upper limit, and the upper limit is expressed as your VO2 Max.

VO2 Max reveals your fitness

Your VO2 Max level is measured in milliliters of oxygen extracted per minute per kilogram of body weight.
If your VO2 Max level is high, you will be able to do more strenuous activity for longer without feeling winded or fatigued.
Conversely, if your VO2 Max level is low, you will become winded with only minimal activity, like walking a few blocks or just walking up a flight of stairs. This value is a wonderfully accurate index of a person’s fitness level.

Ideal VO2 Max levels

An unfit person might have a value of 45ml per minute per kilogram. A fit person may have a value of 80ml per minute per kilogram. So far, the highest value recorded is 96ml per minute per kilogram VO2 Max.

Yoga exercises like Pranayama can help increase in VO2 Max level.


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