3. Air And Breathing
Air is the gaseous substance that makes up the atmosphere of the earth and provides every living thing with its breath of life. Plants receive oxygen through their leaves; insects breathe through tiny openings in their bodies; frogs breathe partly through their skin; fish absorb oxygen out of the water as it passes over their gills; and humans receive their supply of oxygen partly through the skin, but largely through the lungs. The independent life of a body does not begin until it takes its first breath and this function of breathing continues until the end of life. This is the process of respiration, and it must be considered the primary function of the living organism. We can live many weeks without food and some days without water, but if the function of breathing is interfered with for only a few minutes, our life quickly ends.
Respiration is an automatic, involuntary process, being regulated according to the body’s internal needs. With healthy lungs, we breathe normally and rhythmically, yet unconsciously, as the process is beyond our conscious control. At rest we breathe slowly and less deeply. As activity is increased, breathing becomes more rapid, with greater excursions of the diaphragm and chest to allow for increased oxygen intake.
But the respiratory movements are not confined to the chest alone; they are systemic motions pervading the whole trunk. It is known that the rhythmic pulsations of the heart synchronize with the movements of the chest in respiration. These breathing movements also constitute an important factor in the circulation of the blood, as we may experience in the case of a drowned person being resusitated by artificial respiration, by which circulation and heart action are restored.
By far, the largest organs in the body are the lungs, designed and adapted to their work of receiving air and nothing else. They fill the thorax from the collarbone to the lowermost ribs and from the sternum in front to the spine in back. When the chest wall is raised through the action of the muscles of the chest, and when the diaphragm is depressed, the chest cavity expands, this forms a vacuum, and the air rushes into it. Conversely, when the chest wall contracts and the diaphragm is raised, the air is forced out of the lungs. Coincidentally with this process, the blood flows through the lungs, picking up oxygen, carrying it to the ceils and giving off carbon dioxide that it has brought from the cells. This whole process is automatic and is regulated by the body’s need for oxygen.
A normal pair of lungs contain approximately a billion tiny air cells. If these cells were all spread out on a flat surface, they would cover an area 40 x 50 feet. The average man inhales daily approximately 777,000 cubic inches of air, and in this same time 125 barrels of blood are purified in the lungs. Here the poisons and impurities of the body are brought by the blood and cast off. Also, the blood absorbs a fresh supply of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and the essence of sunlight to be conveyed to all parts of the body to furnish the trillions of cells with the normal stimulation to activate its various functions. This is a continuous process, and if it is interfered with, the result could be fatal. When respiration is obstructed, the lips quickly turn bluish-purple due to the rapid collection of carbon dioxide gas in the blood. In only a few seconds, if respiration is impeded the blood will turn almost black in color, signifying a great increase in poisons.
Carbon dioxide is composed of one part carbon and two parts oxygen and is not easily detected, as it is colorless, odorless and tasteless. For every 2,500 parts of atmospheric air, there is one part of carbon dioxide. When the air we breathe contains 3% carbon dioxide, a drowsy feeling occurs, and when it is present in larger quantities, death quickly results. If the organism does not promptly eliminate carbon dioxide, every cell becomes weakened and the entire body suffers. Carbon dioxide gas is present in all charged drinks, in beer and fermented liquids, in baking powder cookery, in self-rising flour products, in yeast bread and in all fermenting products.
At each exhalation the lungs discard enough gases, consisting of carbonic, lactic, hydrochloric, phosphoric and other acids, to poison a barrelful of air. In every 24-hour period, the amount of carbon dioxide eliminated by the lungs is equal to a lump of charcoal weighing eight ounces.
With this in mind, consider also that every person in a room needs 3,000 cubic feet of fresh air an hour to insure purity. In the case where several occupy a room not adequately ventilated, we inhale the exhalations of others and ourselves, and the amount of carbon dioxide contained in the air increases, making it more dangerous to breathe. This is the principal reason why patients in hospitals develop diseases of the lungs such as influenza and pneumonia. The early symptoms of mild carbon dioxide poisoning are sensations of uneasiness and oppression, drowsiness, sneezing, headache and coughing.
Under the laws of accommodation, our bodies are equipped with powers to enable it to tolerate for a time an atmosphere so poisonous that it could cause a vital person to pass out if it were suddenly entered into. This principal was illustrated by an experiment by Claude Bernard in which he used a bird placed under a bell-glass, providing it with enough oxygen nor three hours, but then removing it at the end of the second hour and replacing this bird with a fresh, healthy one. It was shown that the latter died instantly, as it did riot have sufficient time to accommodate itself to the vitiated environment of the bell-glass.
In addition to carbon dioxide, our bodies also must deal with the poisonous fumes of modern industrial cities. City air contains such chemicals as carbon monoxide, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, hydrocyanic acid, benzene, methane, etc. The Cincinnati Post of April 1946 stated that in the month of March the amount of soot and ash that fell on that city was equal to 2725 tons or 227 railway carloads. It amounted to enough to cover a 40 x 150 foot, 75 foot deep lot.
Another interesting fact: A professor H. H. Sheldon of New York University once erected an apparatus in the Times Square theatrical district that drew in air at roof level. In one week, the apparatus cleaned 341,250,000 cubic feet of air, removing from it 12 cubic feet of solid matter composed of dust, soot and tar and weighing 37 pounds.
All the protection one has against polluted air is to exhale it through deeper breaths, but this should be done actively through movement. Ernest T. Seaton, in his story of the coyote, tells of this animal’s protective instincts after ingesting some poisonous bait. It instinctively knows there is but one way it can overcome the poison, and that is by vigorous exhalation. If it can run long enough and fast enough before the poison does its deadly work, the lungs will eliminate the poison and the animal will survive.
H. B. Meller of the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research said: “When it is known that one takes about 30 cubic inches of air into one’s lungs in each inhalation, or about seven times the weight of food and water consumed, it can be understood why more people are weakened, devitalized and poisoned by the pollution in the air they suck into their lungs than by all the ingredients in the food they eat and the water they drink.” When the air we breathe is fresh and pure, it brings life into the body, but when it is filled with poisonous gases from industrial waste, etc., it leads us to ill-health and premature death.
The press of August 19, 1939, stated that these poisonous gases and acids in the air of the city of Paris were “eating away and disintegrating the historic monuments of that city. The rapid decay of these stone monuments dates from about 1900. Since that time, the smoke and fumes from factories, river tugs, motor cars and trucks and heating plants have steadily increased. The smoke, mixed with the
exhaust of motor cars, trucks and buses, produces a compound of sulphuric acid gas that chemically attacks everything that it strikes.”
Until about seventy five years ago, fresh air was considered by physicians as being dangerous to the sick, especially during the night, and all windows were kept closed and all air holes were plugged up to prevent any air from entering. Thanks to the work of the early pioneers of hygiene such as Graham, Trall, Densmore, Page, Oswald and others, most people of today are aware of the importance of adequate ventilation at all times.
Although the Greeks and Romans were able to manufacture glass, they did not use it to obstruct their windows. Instead, they allowed the free passage of light and fresh air to enter their dwelling houses. It was not until later periods, called the Middle Ages, that the fear of night air and of other natural instincts including a fear of eating uncooked foods became predominant, and habitual indoor life between closed walls became customary. This grew out of the philosophies and religions of the day that preached anti-natural doctrines.
Oxygen is essential to the highest physical and mental development of humans. This may be provided through free ventilation and exercise in the open air. Although there seems to be more need for fresh air during the daytime while we are active than during the night when we are inactive, this is hardly an argument for sleeping in unventilated rooms. In sleep, nature seeks complete rest and reduced oxygenation. This is provided for by decreased breathing, and should not be accomplished by the breathing of foul air.
Regular and continuous breathing is essential to meet the needs of life, and it is for this reason that we should live, dress and carry ourselves in ways that do not interfere with the process of breathing. Five minutes of deep breathing twice a day will not compensate for inadequate breathing the rest of the day. It is what we habitually do all day that counts in the long run, rather than any five-minute breathing sessions. Proper and sufficient breathing depends upon a number of factors, including health of nose, throat, chest, lungs and abdomen; proper body posture; freedom of movement of the chest and abdomen (lack of restrictive clothing); well-ventilated homes, bedrooms, etc. and ample exercise in the out-of-doors.
In this light, mention should be made that exercises to develop the chest and to increase its capacity for oxygen are well advised. Modern life generally does not adequately develop the musculature and framework of the chest, and it is for this reason that the modern man or woman’s breathing reserve is small compared to that of wild animals and those people of more primitive societies. Regarding our breathing apparatus, the normal nose permits adequate amounts of air to enter the lungs through but one nostril under ordinary conditions. When under great stress, as when running, the additional nostril should provide for the ingress of sufficient air, providing both nostrils are normal. Generally, mouth breathing is a symptom of disease, as in adenoids, polyps, nasal catarrh, a cold, etc. Every day we should take advantage of the cleanest air available in the particular vicinity in which we live. It is important that we do some exercises that will promote greater oxygen intake. This will also enable us to throw out additional poisons from our lungs and help to keep our breathing functions in a healthier condition.