The Secrets of Extreme Breath Holding

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Humans can hold our breath longer than we think by taking advantage of our body’s innate survival instincts – and then ignoring them.

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To learn more, start your googling with these keywords:
Static Apnea: Holding your breath without swimming or moving.
Apneist: Someone who competes in apnea-related contests.
Fight or Flight Response: A set of physiological responses to a perceived mortal threat.
Mammalian Dive Reflex: A set of physiological responses to immersion that overrides the basic homeostatic reflexes.
Diaphragm: A strip of skeletal muscles underneath the lungs that contracts and flattens when you inhale. It starts spasming as part of involuntary breathing movements when the body starts to run out of oxygen.
Spleen: An organ that primarily acts as a blood filter that can deflate to return blood to the circulatory system.
Carbon Dioxide Tension: The increase in CO2 pressure in the blood as oxygen levels fall.

If you liked this week’s video, you might also like:
Mike Boyd learns how to hold his breath for 4 minutes:

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Credits (and Twitter handles):
Script Writer & Narrator: David Goldenberg (@dgoldenberg)
Video Illustrator: Sarah Berman (@sarahjberman)
Video Directors: David Goldenberg & Julián Gómez (@thejuliangomez)
With Contributions From: Henry Reich, Alex Reich, Kate Yoshida, Ever Salazar, Peter Reich, Arcadi Garcia Rius, Melissa Hayes
Music by: Nathaniel Schroeder:



Bain, A., Drvis, I., Dujic, Z., MacLeod, D., Ainslie, P. (2018). Physiology of static breath holding in elite apneists. Experimental Physiology. 103 (635-651). Retrieved from:

Hutchinson, A. (2018). Pushing the Limits of Extreme Breath-Holding. New Yorker. Retrieved from:

Panneton, W. M. (2013). The Mammalian Diving Response: An Enigmatic Reflex to Preserve Life? Physiology. 28(5): 284–297. Retrieved from:

Petrović, Branko (2019). Personal Communication.

Schagatay E, van Kampen M, Emanuelsson S, Holm B. (2000). Effects of physical and apnea training on apneic time and the diving response in humans. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 82(3) : 161-9. Retrieved from:

Schagatay, Erika (2019). Personal Communication. Center of Information Services and High Performance Computing. TU Dresden. Department of Health Sciences. Mid Sweden University

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