What should our normal breathing rate be?

The resting respiration rate for an adult ranges from 12 to 20 breaths per minute. Above or below this rate may indicate a health problem. Since this rate depends on many factors such as sex, age, weight, lifeclass, the medical definition of “normal” is quite wide. Therefore, even though you fall in this range, you may be overbreathing and not know it.

If you are breathing through your mouth during daily activities, if you regularly sigh or yawn throughout the day, if you are only taking shallow chest breaths, there is a chance that you have an overbreathing habit, which may lead to many problems such as anxiety, fatigue, poor concentration, trouble sleeping and decreased athletic performance.  

You can find more on dysfunctional breathing habits here. 

Getting more air into the body by breathing more does not necessarily mean getting more oxygen into the cells. There needs to be a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide to facilitate oxygen entry. Overbreathing causes too much carbon dioxide to be expelled, hindering the release of oxygen into the cells.

Increased heart rate and shallow, frequent breaths is a stress response. It is the body getting ready to fight or flight when there is a perceived threat. Since this is a mechanism that runs both ways, taking shallow, frequent breaths can send the signal to the brain that there is a reason to panic when there isn’t.

Switching to nasal breathing is the first step to overcome overbreathing. Another step is the regular practice of deep diaphragmatic breaths, which maximize your breathing capacity.

Decreasing the breathing rate has both physical and psychological benefits, such as slower heart rate, reduced blood pressure, more energy, improved concentration, better sleep and increased athletic performance. Practising breathwork regularly with different techniques using breath holds, extended inhales and exhales enhance your tolerance for air hunger and calm the body down. You can try methods that decrease the breath rate to 5-7 breaths per minute and see how you feel. Keep in mind that there is no magical number that works for everyone all the time.