I received a phone call from an oil company researcher asking how much air do people breathe. They make gasoline and asphalt. Reminded me of a line from a Joni Mitchell song that went “they paved paradise and put in a parking lot”.
How much air we breathe in is, as a statistic just by itself, risks being extremely misleading. The answer would move around somewhere between a per breath 1/2 liter in quiet breathing to 6 liters for a tall singing base baritone depending on height, weight, posture, parents genes (big lungs, small lungs, small bones vs big bones, activity quality and intensity) cellular condition, chemistry, emotions, breathing skill level, thinking processes and more. Not a great way to get any real clear conclusions.
How much air we take in is primarily in the relationship of lung volume, breathing rate, balance. How much we get into our cells is another matter as chemistry alters that.
Most people breathe at 12 breaths per minute. This is in itself unhealthy because it overtaxes the breathing system and increases the oxygen cost of breathing. Others say the regardless of rate, breathing chemistry must be within certain carbon dioxide oxygen ratios.
Regardless of chemistry, I recommend 4-7 breaths per minute. 6 breaths would be half the 12 breaths and simply stated would most often reduce the intake of bad air by half. The bottom line is if you breathe slower, relaxed, and efficiently, the improved chemistry allows for more O2 to the cells. With the slower breath you breathe in less pollutants and your nervous system stays less taxed.
If you can breathe and feel a relaxed energy with only 6 breaths per minute your lungs are probably a lot larger in relationship to your body and or more efficient then the person needing 12 breaths per minute.
When your breathing chemistry is developed to the degree that internally you stay pretty much within a good "window" or internal carbon dioxide/oxygen balance you may take in even MORE breaths and more pollutants but still have good "chemistry" and the better chemistry will help you neutralize pollutants.
If your resting breath rate is 4-6 per minute you are probably breathing at a fifth to a third of your maximum volume and barring a sudden or extreme need for energy, do not need to use all the volume to perform adequately. This is similar to a large engine car with a top end of 180 MPH. traveling along in cruise control doing 60 MPH.
This is why I counsel people to develop their breathing to make their volume as large as possible but still in ease and balance.
If you do not breathe deeply AND easily enough you compromise EVERY body and cellular function you have. As stated previously, a lower breathing rate, if it is NOT high chest or manipulated by holding it back, generally indicates larger, deeper, easier breathing.
Your breathing rate and quality, whether it is high chest or abdominal (front, side and back) is a primary feedback system for sensing how stressed you are. People that can not breathe slower will always breathe in more bad air, regardless of their activity. Plus they will be overtaxing/overstimulating the fight flight aspect of their autonomic nervous system causing unnecessary stresses.
People that can breathe slower have the option to breathe in less pollutants and the slower breathing enables them to better handle the stresses of the pollutants in the first place because that saved oxygen-cost-of-breathing gets used in more constructive cellular tasking.
People that might breathe slower are generally in better physical condition, but not necessarily; singers or woodwind players who are couch potatoes and or frequenting bars and tobacco smoke for instance.
Other primary issues are your cellular health and how well you are uptaking oxygen. These factors are strongly influenced by diet, digestion, nutrient absorption, waste elimination, UDB and toxic buildup.
Breathing volume, efficiency, training and cellular strength are significantly interdependent. An opera singer could have great breathing volume but not be in very good physical condition nor have a great diet nor have good breathing chemistry.
The upshot of that is all other things being equal they will probably be more prone to a heart condition then someone with the good diet, and lessened stress of the strong forces necessary for classical singing. Optimal would be to have all of volume, diet, digestion and physical conditioning.
But the physical conditioning has its own goals that may negate volume due to need for physical strength. Massive muscles tend to limit breathing volume. Regardless of anything else, 7 liters is better then 4,3,2,or less liters. The Framingham Study proved that 25 years ago.
How much air should we breathe?
There is a direct relationship between breathing and aliveness. Breath is life. I maintain that shallow breathers live less life then optimal breathers. Shallow breathers agree with me. Overbreathing is a relatively new term. I believe it is mostly based on UDB.
If you are more active in a polluted environment I suggest you stay inside and make sure your surroundings have plenty of clean oxygen-rich air, negative ion generation, oxygenized water to drink, zero toxic out-gassing and at least 75% of uncooked living organic foods that still have their vitamins, minerals, fats, soluble and insoluble fiber, natural enzymes, O2 and H2O2 content intact.
To locate local polluters by zip code to see if you are in need of a safer breathing environment. I stopped riding my bike and now use the stationary bike in the gym and read books and magazines while using my oxygen concentrator instead of being in the out of doors.
This is partly sad but at least constructive until the air gets clean enough, which in my area is, at least, on occasion. Thanks in part to organizations like canarycoalition, the air is slowly getting better.
Meanwhile you can take our breathing development seriously and get energetic and strong enough to help us clean up the environment and learn to enjoy more the natural things like fresh air, clean water, sunshine and the organic non-genetically engineered food that God gave us to start with.
I really would not worry about breathing too much oxygen unless is it is from overbreathing. The problem is getting too LITTLE oxygen. Learn to develop your breathing and get as much oxygen as you will ever need, naturally. Once you know how to get it, it is FREE. Fundamentals of Breathing Development.