I AM lying on a table having my body scanned as part of a much-needed appraisal of my physical condition. Overhead, a machine whirs, using low-level X-rays to compute the precise proportions of my fat, bone and muscle.
The results aren’t great. I am carrying 8 kilograms too much body fat for a 33-year-old male, while my upper body clearly hasn’t seen the inside of a gym for some time. The scan showed that I should aim to get leaner and stronger, while some recent misadventures on a tennis court provided an acute reminder of how far my aerobic capacity has fallen.
I need to get fitter, that much is clear. But like many people, my job is largely sedentary and I often don’t find the time to exercise. Which made me wonder: what if there were ways to hack my fitness so that I get more out of the workouts I actually do – or, even better, get fitter without moving a muscle. I have heard it might be possible to sleep yourself fitter, for instance, or that some sports shoes can help you run faster. There has also been talk of an “exercise pill”, and of people who can build more muscle just by thinking about it. I decided to investigate some low-effort ways to get my fitness on track, starting with the most basic exercise hack of all: breathing.
For many years, yoga devotees have advocated nasal breathing, and researchers are now interested in its effect on performance during exercise. The main reason for this is that a substance called nitric oxide (NO) is produced in the …