Health Goals 2020 | Peak Flow Readings and Building Breathing Capacity

in Natural Medicine2 years ago (edited)


Chart showing three day average for morning peak flow values during the pandemic. Day 1 on the chart is equivalent to 20th day of each month. High: 3-day avg = 368, actual = 375; Low: 3-day avg = 317, actual = 300.

Peak flow readings measure the capacity of the lungs to expel air in litres per minute. They are taken using a peak flow meter, a simple, portable, easy to use device. The readings for an individual can be compared with "normal" values for the population, taking into account height, age and sex. However, "normal" is very individual. Peak flow meters are one of the tools used to diagnose and manage asthma.

My "normal" is a range of 345-360 l/min depending on many variables including things like levels of tiredness and air pollution. The blue line in the chart represents the first month of the pandemic: I achieved my highest reading ever then, 375 l/min, then, and several 370 l/min.

The gradual decline shown in the grey line represents an infection and then the sharp drop shows the combined effects of infection and anti-biotics. In the yellow line you see the effects of a second, but less toxic, course of anti-biotics and then the gradual recovery. Even the lowest actual reading in this period was 300 - my "normal" in previous periods.

Source Chart with "normal" peak flow values depending on age, height and sex.

I was prompted to do this analysis by the positive feedback I received at my recent health check and the opportunity to work with a health trainer for six weeks towards achieving health improvement goals. Health improvement goals can be anything to do with lifestyle and behavioural changes: healthy eating, stopping smoking, better sleeping etc.

I decided that I wanted to build my breathing capacity, shown by increased peak flow readings so that I'm getting a consistent three-day average of 380 l/min (or better). I'm going to do this by two things:

  • adding three thirty-minute sessions of Pilates each week.
  • moving my afternoon walk to the morning.

I usually walk in the late afternoon or early evening and I use it as a boundary to my working day. However, it's also the time of day that traffic is building up. I've started going out about 6.30am when there is very little traffic.

I've tested a set of Pilates videos, checking their effects and how long it takes me to recover. I'm starting with these:
Standing Pilates for Seniors to build strength and confidence (30 minutes)
Mat Pilates for Seniors to build strength, confidence and flexibility (15 minutes)
Chair Pilates for Seniors - build core strength in a safe and gentle way (15 minutes

There are many others to choose from, ranging in length from 10 minutes to an hour, including Pilates for painful knees, building bone density, sessions for office workers and a lovely 15 minute gentle night time routine.

I chose Pilates because of the focus on breathing control and the relationship between your breathing and control over your body. In addition to relieving stress (because you have to be in the moment and focus on what you are doing) and building strength, Pilates helps with balance, co-ordination, stamina and flexibility. The videos I've chosen are based on classes with participants ranging from 65 to 83 years of age.

My goal over the next six weeks is to reach a consistent three day average of 380 l/min (I've already hit 390 l/min once this week, just messing about with testing the videos and moving my walk to the morning).

DateTarget 3 day avg l/minActual 3 day avg l/minNotes
01/08/2020345 l/min351 l/minStarting three day average
08/08/2020352 l/min
15/08/2020359 l/min
22/08/2020366 l/min
29/08/2020373 l/min
05/09/2020380 l/min
12/09/2020380 l/min



There is not enough emphasis put on the importance of breathing and increasing our breathing capacity as it affects all areas of our lives. You seem to have a really good plan put in place and I look for forward to hearing how it all works out for you Thanks for sharing.

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Thank you @naturalmedicine and @trucklife-family, I have become intrigued by breathing - we pay so little attention to it and it is so important and, as you say, affects all areas of our lives. I am enjoying learning about it.

I love how well defined your health goals are. This makes it much easier to check if your actions really help to achieve the defined goals... I guess I write this, because although my goal is clear cut (reduce pain intensity and frequency), progress towards it is not easy measurable (or better: I do not know how to measure it) So far it is mostly recommanded to try the therapy for three month and then see if after the time something changed to the better. If not it may be that the therapy does not work or the patient made mistakes while doing it and the letter is more or less always the case, so the procedure starts enew.
I have to think about my methods especially as in my 'holidays' I stopped running completely as I got heavy migraines afterwards. There seem to be so many possible helpful things regarding migraines which only work for some. And all have in common that they have high "costs" like medication with intense side effects or drastic changes to eating habits, 4 timres a week sports which is nearly impossible if you have frequent migraines etc.... And for none of these methods there is strikingly better prognosis then with a placebo therapy (this applys to medical and non-medical interventions/therapies). And besides this meagre outcome (especially if you try medication) there is this in German called honeymoon effect: meaning all methods work for a short time if they are drastic enough because the hope alone, that the change in regime will help, creates a placebo effect for its own. Sorry, again I am rambling (I need an English infusion, so that my writing is more coherent and shorter :-DDD)

But back to your regime... I hope it is ok if I write my thoughts about it, because I am sure you are much more learned about your own condition. I do not want to disrupt or impose stupid advice; I am honestly interested in learning more about your health management (I already did profit by the way... I never thought about the problem to measure improvement in migraine management during the therapy).
I am a bit surprised that you have chosen Pilates to enhance lung function, as in my memory Pilates teaches a kind of “flat” breathing which is restricted to the rip/lateral breathing. On the other hand, my experience with Pilates is a while ago, so there may be a lot of changes to the method. I am curious to see how this will work (really curious, as I liked Pilates). My first idea (but I am not learned in any capacitiy about lung health) would have been yogic (or other) breathing exercises, learning/playing a wind instrument, singing or perhaps breast stroke swimming (because of the forced rhythm as the head is under water while releasing breath).

And then I must congratulate you that you already have managed to get walking and sports into your daily routine!
Now I also want such a well defined plan <3 <3

Ah, as always you trigger so many thoughts 😘
There are at least enough for two or three posts.
I will try and write them soon 😁

Loving your analytical and focused approach!! I, too, am working on reducing my use of lung steroids and enhancing my lung capacity. I'm having good results with some herbs to reduce mucous build-up, a change in sleeping position, and using Near Infra Red Light on my chest most days. I don't have a peak flow meter, and suddenly feel compelled to go out and get one, although that might not be such an easy task in Northern Thailand. Adding it to my list!

Loving your analytical and focused approach!

Haha - it looks that way in the post. The process to arrive at the plan was more messy and wandered around a bit! Peak flow meters are quite inexpensive and available online. They're also quite light, so wouldn't be too expensive for someone (me?) to post to you if you are unable to get one directly in Northern Thailand. I'm glad you are able to find things that help.

Great post. I had pneumonia once and my peak flow meter went to 10 percent. It was horrifying - my partner didn't believe I couldn't breath until I couldn't walk two metres to the toilet. he called an ambulance. I use a lot of pranyama to strengthen my lungs too. Being asthmatic sucks, but there ARE things we can do to help.

Thank you :)
So sorry to hear about your experience with pneumonia, that must have been terrifying!
The peak flow meter is a really helpful tool for managing and self-managing asthma, good readings provide positive reinforcement and lower ones alert you to do something. This is the first time I've done this kind of analysis and I was interested how closely the readings mapped changes in me (the infection) and in external factors (like no traffic in the first month).
Hope you are feeling much better now - I'm guessing you are out of quarantine?

yes, we've been out for about 6 weeks now. It took me a while to recover. Now we're about to go into lockdown again!

I used to have a peak flow meter but I have no idea where it is now. A really handy tool, you're right!

Fascinating - nice uptrend in the later half of June,

Are they very expensive, peak flow metres?

I thought you would enjoy it :)

They're about £10-£12 over the counter or online.

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It is interesting I hope you do it, you have advanced fast with only walks