Science / Reduce Oxidative Stress

How to Reduce Oxidative Stress

by Patrick McKeown

How Breathing Exercises Balance the Impact of Intensive Training

  • Oxygen is essential to human life
  • But oxidative stress can cause disease
  • Exercise lowers oxidative stress
  • Intensive exercise increases it

Let’s take a closer look at what you can do to reduce oxidative stress. Without limiting your workout.

Reduce Oxidative Stress

What is Oxidative Stress?

Oxidative stress happens as a result of oxidation. The process by which the cells in your body react with the oxygen you breathe. Oxidation is a natural chemical reaction. A little like the process that makes a sliced apple turn brown when its flesh meets the air.

Oxidation occurs:

  • When your cells break down glucose to make energy
  • When your body is detoxing
  • When your immune system is fighting off infection

What Are Free Radicals?

Oxidation produces molecules called “free radicals.”

When an oxygen atom splits, its electrons separate into 2 unpaired oxygen radicals. These free radicals interact with molecules within your cells. They “steal” electrons from other molecules to stabilize. This triggers normal cellular structures to break down. It results in damage to cells, mitochondria and DNA.

Not all free radicals are harmful. Mild oxidative stress may protect the body from disease. Immune cells use free radicals to fight infection.

It’s normal to have a certain number of free radicals in your body. But too many can cause serious consequences.

What Are the Symptoms of Oxidative Stress?

Oxidative damage is at the root of diseases including:

  • Some types of cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Multiple sclerosis

It plays a role in the biological ageing process. It triggers an inflammatory response that can lead to chronic inflammation.

In athletes, oxidative stress is linked with overtraining syndrome. Over trained athletes have higher resting oxidative stress and impaired “antioxidant” protection.

What Are Antioxidants?

Antioxidants are molecules that pair with the free radicals in the body. They ‘mop up,’ neutralizing free radicals by lending them an electron.

These free radical fighting molecules are produced in the body. And they’re found in antioxidant-rich foods like fruit and vegetables too. Remember our rotting apple? Antioxidant preservatives play a big role in food production.

What Causes Oxidative Stress?

Oxidative stress develops when there’s an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants. Triggers include:

  • Cigarette smoke/air pollution
  • Alcohol
  • High blood sugar
  • High intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Bacterial, fungal, or viral infections
  • Overconsumption of antioxidants like vitamin C/E
  • Too much iron, magnesium, copper or zinc
  • Antioxidant deficiency
  • Physical and emotional stress

Most of these factors can be easily avoided by making deliberate lifestyle changes. But there are two more risk factors that are particularly relevant to athletes:

  • Too much or too little oxygen in your body
  • Intense and prolonged exercise

Oxidative Stress and Physical Exercise

Moderate exercise reduces oxidative stress. But it also causes temporary oxidative stress. The free radicals that form during your workout regulate tissue growth and stimulate antioxidant production.

Exercise-induced free radical production occurs parallel with increased oxygen uptake. Exercise speeds up the metabolism, intensifying oxidation. As energy is released, extra free radicals form. To regulate exercise-induced injury, the immune system adds more free radicals to the mix.

But… when you exercise regularly, your antioxidant response becomes more effective.


3 Natural Remedies for Fighting Oxidative Stress

A healthy diet, stress reduction and regular moderate exercise all combat oxidative stress. But if you’re an elite or aspiring athlete, it’s likely you do these things already. You need tools to treat and avoid oxidative stress long term. Even when training is intense.

There are several training protocols that will help reduce oxidative stress naturally:

1. Regular Strength Training

Weight training stresses your body. This controlled stress makes your muscles stronger. It causes your body to adapt, improving your oxidative stress response. You become more resilient.

2. Nasal Breathing

You can “manage” oxidative stress by implementing a reduced breathing practice.

Many of us train at an intensity that is too high for our metabolic capability. This causes physical stress and fatigue. It complicates the process of conditioning and delays recovery.

To avoid this, breathe through your nose throughout your cardio workout. Nose breathing ensures you are exercising within your metabolic reach.

It also produces air hunger – the feeling that you want to take in more air. This means carbon dioxide levels in your blood have increased. Which means better body oxygenation. When you practice using air hunger, you reduce your body’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide. This delays the onset of breathlessness. And it reduces acidity in your blood. Which reduces oxidative stress.

Nasal breathing also engages and strengthens the diaphragm.

3. Diaphragm Breathing 

Scientists have shown diaphragm breathing increases antioxidant levels in athletes after exhaustive exercise. In one study, cyclists practiced diaphragm breathing after an 8-hour cycle ride. Results showed fewer free radicals and higher antioxidant levels. Cortisol (the main stress hormone) was lower too.

In short, diaphragm breathing can help reverse the long-term impact of oxidative stress. Even in extreme endurance athletes.

Oxygen Advantage® exercises simulate high altitude training and strengthen the diaphragm. Strong breath holds give the diaphragm a workout. This balances oxidative stress and boosts recovery.

Add a simple breathing practice to your training protocol today. Reduce oxidative stress naturally, stop overtraining and enjoy a healthier, longer life. Work with your body’s amazing systems, not against them. And you’ll continue to meet and exceed your personal sporting goals. 

What the Scientists Say about Reducing Oxidative Stress


Mouth breathing is considered an abnormal and inefficient adaptation of breathing mode and it may induce functional, postural, biomechanical and occlusal imbalances. Mouth breathing reflected on lower recruitment of the accessory inspiratory muscles during fast inspiration and lower diaphragmatic amplitude, compared to nasal breathing.

See: Trevisan, ME, Boufleur, J, Corrêa Soares, J, Pereira Haygert, CJ, Gerdi Kittel Ries, L, Castilhos Rodrigues Corrêa, E. Diaphragmatic amplitude and accessory inspiratory muscle activity in nasal and mouth-breathing adults: a cross-sectional study. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology 25 (2015) 463–468.


Results demonstrate that relaxation induced by diaphragmatic breathing increases the antioxidant defense status in athletes after exhaustive exercise. These effects correlate with the concomitant decrease in cortisol and the increase in melatonin.

The consequence is a lower level of oxidative stress, which suggests that an appropriate diaphragmatic breathing could protect athletes from long-term adverse effects of free radicals.

See: Martarelli D, Cocchioni M, Scuri S, Pompei P. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:932430.


Diaphragmatic breathing reduces heart rates (p<0.01), increases insulin (p<0.05), reduces glycemia (p<0.01), and reduces free-radical production as indicated by the higher antioxidants levels (p<0.05).

Diaphragmatic breathing, likely through the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, increases insulin, reduces glycemia, and reduces reactive oxygen species production

See: Martarelli D, Cocchioni M, Scuri S, Pompei P. Diaphragmatic breathing reduces postprandial oxidative stress. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Jul; 17(7):623-8.

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