Although we can survive for weeks without food and multiple days without water, we would die after just a few minutes without a breath of air.
Audrey Mestre came from a family of scuba divers and snorkelers and spent a large portion of her life underwater. She was so confident in her abilities that in 2002 she attempted a world record dive of 561 feet off the coast of the Dominican Republic. The day of the dive came and at 300 feet, tragedy struck: Audrey blacked out and was rushed back up to the surface. But, after spending nine long minutes without oxygen, she couldn’t be revived and passed away. Audrey’s death brings to light just how crucial air is to our lives, but how much do we really know about it?
Air is roughly 21% oxygen and 79% nitrogen. In addition to the oxygen that your cells need to survive, there are small amounts of other elements as well as particulate material such as pollens, dust, molds, and other pollutants.
This leads to a question: what kind of air should we breathe? Is it okay to breathe any old air? It turns out that the different types of air you breathe make different, significant changes to your health. So what would be considered the “healthiest” air? Well, the best air to breathe for optimum health is oxygen-rich, negatively charged air. Let’s delve into the second part of that sentence. A charged atom is called an ion. Ions can be either negatively or positively charged–negatively charged ions having more electrons than protons. The negative charge in air is usually attached to oxygen.
Air molecules can gain or lose electrical charges due to sunlight, cosmic radiation, and moving air and water. Negative ions tend to concentrate near rivers and waterfalls due to their movement. They also exist in places like beaches, forests, mountains, and interestingly enough, areas that have just been struck by lightning. All of these places have something in common, other than the profusion of healthy negative ions: they all seem to congregate in the outdoors; specifically, the wild and natural outdoors. In fact, it’s often been discovered that the number of negative ions in any of the places I just mentioned is up to 10 times more than the office or bedroom you’re sitting in right now.
Negative ions are also referred to as “happy ions” because they contribute to better moods, more energy, and an overall sense of well-being. Have you ever noticed your mood after leaving a sunny day at the beach or after hiking to a grand, rushing waterfall? Maybe you noticed that you feel refreshed, calm, and happy. There’s a reason for that happiness: studies show that people who spend time in environments with a high negative ion concentration are less likely to be depressed. They sleep better and have more energy, too!
On the flip side, positive ions are associated with the bad elements in the air. They often attach themselves to Carbon Dioxide and the pollutants that turn our air grey and dirty. And, as if the sight of grey and dirty air wasn’t enough to bring your mood down, positive ions have been also shown to cause an overproduction of serotonin, which can ultimately lead to anxiety and depression.
When we breathe, we don’t move nearly all the air in our lungs. An interesting way our body tries to remedy this is through a sigh. We sigh because our brains want to flush out some of the stale air in our lungs, and so we’re periodically triggered to take in a deep breath, i.e. a sigh. But sighing from time to time doesn’t cut it—it’s much more helpful to go somewhere we can find a higher concentration of negatively charged particles and intentionally take 3-5 very deep breaths of that clean air. (Doesn’t that already sound refreshing?) Afterward, bend over at the waist and cough at the end of the expiration. People say this “clears their head” but in reality, they are describing the rise of oxygen levels in their blood stream. The result of rising oxygen levels is a clearer mind.
But what if you don’t live near a forest and an ocean? Well, before you go to sleep tonight, try leaving a window or two open. This increases the concentration of negative “happy” ions in your home. Step outside for a minute every hour at work for a literal “breather.” On the weekend, if you’re faced with a choice between taking a hike in the mountains or going to a congested amusement park, you now know why you’ll feel much better if you choose the mountains!
Take it a step further and grow a few plants indoors—they can be used to “grow” your own fresh air. Some of the best plants for this are plants with a large surface area, such as ferns, palms, and lilies. These have been shown to reduce contaminants such as formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, xylene, and benzene.
It almost seems too simple but air’s effect is proven. A breath of fresh air will make you feel better right now, and even more frequent and habitual breaths will help sustain your healthy, happy life for years to come. Okay, this video is nearly over so take a step back, put on your shoes, and go outside for some fresh air. 3-2-1…