Recently, I came across the phrase “Rule of Threes.” It refers to the relative importance of water, oxygen, and food to our survival. While not a hard-and-fast rule, it says that the average person can go three weeks without food, three days without water, and only three minutes without oxygen.
Of course, the shorter life duration for oxygen is because our cells need oxygen 24/7 to make the energy they need to function. Without oxygen, they would quickly die (taking us along with them).
Since we can’t store oxygen in the same way we can store nutrients, our bodies have what I like to call “fail safe” responses to ensure we get the oxygen we need. To experience first-hand how this works, just hold your breath for a while.
Unless you are a champion free diver, you will involuntarily take a breath within seconds – no matter how hard you may try not to. This is also why you may even wake yourself up from your sleep if your body isn’t getting the oxygen it needs (this is a sign of sleep apnea, a serious medical condition).
What Do We Need Oxygen for?
While we clearly need oxygen to live, it turns out oxygen also brings a wide variety of health benefits, many of which are especially important to boomers. These include:
- Helping the immune system protect us from pathogens and pollutants by detoxifying our blood, killing various bacteria, displacing free radicals, and neutralizing toxins.
- Enhancing the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, which becomes increasingly important as we age.
- Promoting heart and cardiovascular system health by lowering resting hearth rate and strengthening the heart muscle, which can reduce our risk of heart attack.
- Making it easier for our bones to heal and mend, which is especially important to us as boomer women who may be predisposed to osteoporosis and fall risks.
- Maintaining mental alertness, including concentration, memory, and the ability to learn, which can be impacted by oxygen levels.
- Reducing fatigue, which has been linked to lower oxygen levels.
What Affects Oxygen’s Concentration?
In addition to getting older, there are some environmental and physical conditions that can contribute to less than optimal oxygen circulating in our blood. Some of these are:
- Living at a high altitude, where there is less oxygen available to breathe
- Air pollution and contaminants
- COPD, sleep apnea, asthma, and other lung or cardiovascular diseases
- Sharing enclosed rooms with minimal air circulation
- Being obese
- Taking certain medications, such as painkillers
Are You Getting Enough Oxygen?
If you are not getting enough oxygen, you may experience a variety of symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid breathing, headache (this is very common when you first arrive at a higher altitude), insomnia (also very common when traveling to higher altitudes), increased blood pressure, and a rapid heartbeat.
You should go to the ER if you travel to higher elevations and experience severe shortness of breath with a cough, fluid retention, and a rapid heartbeat. If you find yourself being winded even after light exertion, be sure to talk with a competent health care provider.
The average person has a blood oxygen saturation level of between 97 and 100 percent. As we get older, it is normal for this oxygen saturation level to drop to where people over 70 years of age may have oxygen saturation levels of around 95 percent. This is definitely lower that a younger person’s, but it is generally acceptable.
How to Measure Oxygen Levels in Your Blood
Measuring your blood oxygen levels can be readily done with a small device that clips to the tip of your finger or to your ear lobe. Known as pulse oximeter, the device uses small beams of light to measure how much oxygen is in your blood. You can purchase it in pharmacies and online.
This device is usually prescribed by your doctor because you have lung disease, heart disease, anemia, or another condition that could impact your blood oxygen level, such as Covid-19 disease.
If a more precise measurement is ever needed, for example in a critical care or emergency setting, medical professionals may draw blood to do a direct measurement of its oxygen saturation level.
If you are experiencing what you believe to be symptoms of low oxygen blood levels, talk with a competent heath care practitioner before self-diagnosing or starting any type of self-care regimen. Depending on your actual oxygen levels, and the cause of any low levels, supplemental oxygen may be indicated.
How to Increase Your Oxygen Levels?
If you would like to help your body increase its ability to more effectively absorb and use what it gets from breathing, there are some lifestyle and dietary changes you may want to incorporate into your daily routine.
When It Comes to Lifestyle
From a lifestyle perspective, be sure to include cardio exercise to help keep your cardiovascular system (including your lungs) in good shape. Even walking 20 minutes a day will give you some benefit, and you’ll get even more if it is a brisk walk.
And if you can do your walk outside, versus inside at a mall or gym, for example, that is even better since fresh air will help you get more oxygen.
Other activities that can help increase oxygen levels are yoga and meditation, which help you focus on and be mindful of your breathing. And don’t overlook having green indoor plants – in addition to filling your home with oxygen, taking care of them is an excellent way to relax.
What You Can Do Nutrition-Wise
From a dietary perspective, start with making sure you are drinking enough water.This will help your lungs better absorb oxygen from the air you inhale and expel carbon dioxide and other toxins as you exhale.
Be sure to include iron-rich foods in your diet.Some are meat, beef liver, chicken, chickpeas, kidney beans, oysters, fortified grains like cereals and breads, tofu, dark chocolate, spinach, tomatoes, lentils, tofu, cashews, tuna, turkey, broccoli, raisins, and potatoes.
You should also talk with your health care provider about taking a nutrient test to make sure you are getting enough vitamin B12.This vitamin plays a key role in the production of red blood cells (these cells carry oxygen throughout your body).
Vitamin B12can be found in animal foods such as eggs, poultry, fish, milk, and red meat. Since many of us who are over 60 often have problems absorbing vitamin B12 from food, we may need to take a supplement.
Have you ever had symptoms of low oxygen? If so, did you speak with a health care professional about it? What did they recommend? What do you do to help make sure your body gets the oxygen it needs? Do you have indoor plants? Do you have a pulse oximeter at home? Why did you get it? Has it been helpful? Please join the conversation.