You may well have heard that getting oxygen into your cells is a very good thing, and that if you have cancer, cancerous cells in a Petri dish die on exposure to O2. But how do you get oxygen deep into your body to feed and re-energise the trillions of cells that make up your system?
Having experimented with oxygen over the years, I know several of the ways and set out recently to fill the gaps in my understanding.
The main problem is that gas is invisible. So, although you are assured by the many scientific studies and articles written by highly respected medical experts that increasing O2 levels can have a powerful impact on your health, it's actually very hard to tell.
Oxygen at the gym: a revelation
One way I can judge the effects oxygen has on me is when I use it at the gym. If you know your own body and can recognise the point at which it usually tires, then you will notice the difference that O2 makes to your workout.
More and more gyms in the States offer an ‘oxygen option’ for members. Next to all the treadmills and weight machines are small oxygen canisters. You can buy specific periods of oxygen time and the gym will give you a clear plastic tube, with a small attachment that clips into your nostrils. You exercise exactly the same way as you usually do, whilst pure O2 is pumped through the tube and you breathe it deeply into your lungs as you pump away. I have only tried it once so far, for an hour-long session, which cost me an additional $20. I loved the effects. I found I was running longer, bicycling further, lifting weights with less effort and generally performing better than my usual pathetic efforts at fitness.
Doing my reps with an oxygen tube in my nose and breathing in oxygen-enriched air enables me to go further and faster than my normal routine. I noticed that my heart rate increased and my brain felt sharper than usual. The effects lasted for the rest of the day. Sometimes too, there was a faint flushing to my skin; a sign that the tiny capillaries were carrying the good stuff to my cells. This method is thoroughly quantifiable. Best of all, it's also said to be anti-ageing. I think it's time I committed and invested.
Where America goes, England usually follows and when I googled to find out who was offering what in the UK, I found a couple of options. Along with a number of smaller private gyms, Holmes Place Gyms offer the O2 Live system, for a fixed monthly fee of £10 for an unlimited number of uses of either a mask or a nose clip. You can choose different scents to suit your mood and they claim a noticeable psychological boost along with the physical stamina.
If you'd like your own personal oxygen system to carry with you in your gym bag, then invest in an Oxyfit, an oxygen filled cannister that you can buy for less than £20 and that offers the same oxygen benefits. Keep one at home and boost your oxygen levels with a mere 8-10 inhalations a day.
Infrared Oxygen Therapy
Next up, there's Infrared Oxygen Therapy, which I hadn't tried before. Having read up on it, it seems that additionally heating the core of the body to a temperature of more than 98.6F vastly enhances the effects of breathing in oxygen. The combination of heat and oxygen stimulates the body's defence mechanisms, increasing the numbers of natural killer cells defending the immune system from attack by bacteria and viruses.
I found a clinic that offered this when I was in the States recently. I lay on a comfortable bed, fully clothed, and an infrared dome was placed over my stomach area, gently heating my body whilst I was breathing oxygen-rich air in through my nose via yet another cannula. The infrared heat carries the newly oxygenated blood to the areas that need it most, penetrating deep into the joints, nerves, bones and muscles, delivering nutrients and taking away toxins in the process. My whole body was wonderfully warm and toasty, utterly relaxed. I could have stayed there for hours, but was rudely awoken with a jolt when the oxygen machine automatically switched off and my time was up. Find out more by watching my video:
You can buy a machine for yourself for home treatment. Google options that suit you, but most of them are expensive and cost two to three three thousand dollars to buy outright, so if you can find a clinic or health centre near you that offers the facility that may be your best bet. A very appealing thought for those cold winter days.
Many years ago I tried a session in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, where you breathe in O2 whilst pressurised in a sealed chamber. Because of the pressure, your body takes in a full 95% of the oxygen from the air you are breathing, allowing it to penetrate deeply into your cells, and to your brain and your nervous system, both of which are often severely oxygen-depleted. Because it's pressurised, the oxygen stays much longer in your blood stream and apparently continues to benefit you for many weeks afterwards. Athletes use these chambers to train in, as they simulate the conditions of training at altitude.
I had forgotten how the hyperbaric chamber felt, so decided to have a session to refresh my memory (definitely needing a blast of it in the smoggy London summer). I made an appointment at to test it out. There are various places that offer it in London now. Check out my video here:
I was zipped into the sealed chamber, which is just big enough to fit a single person lying down (the chambers athletes use are obviously far bigger). The session lasts an hour, so you can either lie and meditate, think calming thoughts, or lie peacefully doing your emails or scanning your iPhone. I could hear hissing as the chamber started pressurising, and then, just like in a plane, my ears got blocked, so that I had to hold my nose and breathe out to clear them. Other than that and the fact that yet again I had a cannula in my nose, I could have been relaxing anywhere. So, all in all, a peaceful process, but whether the oxygen was actually achieving miracles in my immune system, I really couldn't say. I will have to rely on the science, and trust that invisible is the way forward.
If you want to take the hyperbaric experience to another level, the Third Space gym in London now has a chamber at its Soho site and is offering members the opportunity to work out inside it. The benefits for endurance and wellbeing are reported to be great, although it's to be avoided unless you are pretty fit already, due to the extra exertion.
Oxygen metre - a cheap way to monitor your O2
A few days later, I heard about the oxygen metre, which can reliably replace my trust in the invisible. For an inexpensive way of measuring how much - or how little - oxygen you have in your blood, and to get a baseline reading from which to measure your improvent, you can buy a small clip that fits onto your finger and gives a reading of your blood oxygen saturation and pulse. Small, simple to use and reliable, doctors often use it to keep patients with lung and breathing issues stable. It gives you an early warning if your oxygen levels or pulse rate fall to a dangerous level. I spent less than £30 on Amazon and prepared to experiment. I pressed the button, clipped it onto my finger and a few seconds later the results popped up on the screen. It seemed my oxygen therapies had successfully done their stuff! It will be interesting to monitor how fast or slowly the levels drop over the coming days.