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Healthy breathing is vital. It's an automated process we are largely unaware of. Every day, we inhale and exhale more than 20,000 times.

The worst and best places to breathe in: Living in Prague is the same as smoking four cigarettes a day

Kristina Valachyová
26.Oct 2021
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6 minutes to read
Dívka ve sportovním běží po pobřeží

Did you know that it takes two trees to cover one person's daily need of oxygen? The moment we were born, we got a slap on the butt to make us breathe. Pretty funny, right? The first breath, by the way, is the strongest breath of our lives. It's almost four times as strong as any breath we take after. Experts have been drawing attention to the serious problem of breathing in unhealthy environments for several years now.

Žena na pláži. Lidé, kteří žijí na mořském pobřeží, jsou zdravější než ti, kteří žijí dále ve vnitrozemí.

The worst places to breathe

The Death Zone

The film Everest, directed by Baltasar Kormákur, recapitulates the fate of one of the most tragic expeditions, during which the majestic massif gave its challengers a chilling warning. Mount Everest attracts hundreds of climbers every year. The highest part of the mountain is called the Death Zone. You should never stay there for longer than 24 hours, because if you go to sleep in the zone, you may not wake up. In high season, there are such congestions forming below the peak that climbers in this zone die of exhaustion while they wait for their turn. Sometimes, people have to wait for hours to ascend or descend on one rope, and in addition to exhaustion, they find themselves at risk of frostbite, altitude sickness or lack of oxygen.

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Scéna z filmu Mount Evererst.
Scéna z filmu Mount Evererst.Source: Profimedia

Prodej luxusního domu, Praha - západ - 414 m2
Prodej luxusního domu, Praha - západ - 414 m2, Okolí Prahy

"A prolonged stay in the 'death zone' increases the risk and can even lead to death,"

said former president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association Ang Tsering Sherpa. The danger lies in the fact that at an altitude of over 8,000 meters above sea level, the human body can no longer acclimatize to its environment and begins to consume itself, especially muscle tissue, in order to gain the energy it needs.

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Horolezci.Source: Profimedia

As they prepared for shooting the movie Everest, all the actors tried to spend 10 minutes in an altitude simulator set for 9,000 meters above sea level. Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin attempted to outdo each other, closing bets who would last longer. In the end, they both had a big problem to endure even the ten minutes.

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Leopold Sulovský.
Leopold Sulovský.Source: Profimedia

On May 17, 1991, mountaineer Leopold Sulovský became the first Czech to climb Mount Everest.

Desert storms

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Pouštní bouře.
Pouštní bouře.Source: Profimedia

This natural phenomenon usually occurs after several days of rising temperatures, with entire cities enveloped in a thick blanket of sand and dust within a few hours. During sandstorms, dozens of people are hospitalized for breathing problems. The sand that gets in the lungs during beach and desert storms consists mainly of silica, which is used, for example, in glass production. The crystals cut the lungs, creating microscopic wounds that cause scar tissue to form after they have healed.

Gulf War Syndrome

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Vojáci na obrněných vozech: U vojáků se začala projevovat nemoc označena jako syndrom války v Zálivu.
Vojáci na obrněných vozech: U vojáků se začala projevovat nemoc označena jako syndrom války v Zálivu.Source: Profimedia

Veterans who served in the Persian Gulf since 1990 during the Iraq war inhaled huge amounts of sand dust. Soon, the soldiers also began to display symptoms of an unknown disease, which was later called the Gulf War Syndrome. For many years, experts couldn't agree on what had caused these problems in the soldiers. In 2008, a commission of experts came to the conclusion that the mass disease was caused by the pills that the soldiers had been using as prevention against nerve gases, or pesticides that they had inhaled during the war. The Experimental and Molecular Pathology journal reported that the causative agent was contaminated anthrax vaccines that the soldiers had been compulsorily vaccinated with, containing the highly toxic additive squalene MF59. The military command rejected this claim. Senior military officials later admitted that the substance was present in the vaccines, but by accidental contamination, not intentionally. None of the affected war veterans believed this argument. They all think that pharmaceutical companies used them as lab rats.


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Město Greenville na severu Kalifornie zasáhl ničivý požár.
Město Greenville na severu Kalifornie zasáhl ničivý požár.Source: Profimedia

Today's fires in apartment buildings can be dreadful and they move very fast, especially due to the amount of highly flammable materials in our homes. To prevent smoke from entering the room, seal the gaps around the door with a wet towel, especially around the threshold. Make sure to stay down, because smoke raises through the air - that way you'll get enough oxygen to keep you breathing. Try to stay calm, save your breath and don't waste oxygen. Remember that stress makes breathing harder.

A plethora of movies has been made on the subject of fires, including District 49. As part of their preparation, some of the actors portraying firefighters in the film actually underwent firefighter training.

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Hasič v akci
Hasič v akciSource: Freepik


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Horníci v práci.
Horníci v práci.Source: Profimedia

Working underground ruins health. A dark mine can be likened to a slow killer.

"I told my friends to wait and went to check if the way was free. I turned around, took three steps, and the pressure wave swept me to the ground. I don't know how many meters I flew. I was lying on the ground and everything was pitch black. It tore off my lamp and took off my clothes. There was no air left to breathe..."

one of the miners describes an explosion that took the lives of twenty of his colleagues.

Miners are also at risk of a condition known as lung dust disease.

"Constantly inhaling dust damages the lungs and leads to a characteristic disease - miner's lung,"

said Ľubomír Legáth, head of the Department of Occupational Medicine and Clinical Toxicology, University Hospital in Košice.

Actor Antonio Banderas also tried out the role of a miner in the dramatic film "33", which is a retelling of a real event from the lives of 33 Chilean miners who survived 69 days in a mine shaft in 2010, where they remained trapped after a landslide.

Enclosed spaces

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Žena ve výtahu, která se bojí uzavřených prostor.
Žena ve výtahu, která se bojí uzavřených prostor.Source: Profimedia

Are you afraid of elevators and other cramped spaces where you feel irrational fear? You just might be claustrophobic.

"I started taking very fast and deep breaths, due to which my lung volume increased and I was stuck in a crevice for about half an hour,"

claustrophobic Petr said for LP-Life.

People with claustrophobia also often feel an associated fear of suffocation.

Polluted cities

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Číňanky mají na tvářích ochranné masky ve smogem zamořeném Pekingu.
Číňanky mají na tvářích ochranné masky ve smogem zamořeném Pekingu.Source: Profimedia

Air pollution in some European capitals is so bad that staying for a couple of days puts as much strain on our bodies as smoking one to four cigarettes. A four-day stay in Paris, Vienna, Rome and Amsterdam has the same effect on the human body as smoking two cigarettes. An equally long stay in London is similar to the effect of smoking 2.75 cigarettes. Milan is a bit worse off (three cigarettes) and Prague and Istanbul are the worst off, ranking on top of the list of the most polluted places with four cigarettes. The International Agency for Research on Cancer declared that air pollution is a similar carcinogen to asbestos, tobacco and ultraviolet radiation.

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Sportovní dívka při cvičení v horách
Sportovní dívka při cvičení v horáchSource: Profimedia

The best places to breathe in

Salt caves

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Solná jeskyně v Prešově.
Solná jeskyně v Prešově.Source: Oficiální web jeskyně

Speleotherapy can solve airway problems or allergies.

"Speleo-aerosols contain trace elements of calcium, which has an anti-inflammatory effect on the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. In addition, there are other trace elements present - magnesium, iron, trace elements of sodium and even potassium, which are represented in smaller quantities,"

the head of Lázně Štós, Božena Ciberajová, said for LP-Life.

It is equally important that there are no allergens, bacteria or fungi present in a cave environment. Thanks to that, no irritation of the respiratory tract occurs.

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Pohádka Sůl nad zlato se natáčela v slovenských jeskyních.
Pohádka Sůl nad zlato se natáčela v slovenských jeskyních.Source: Filmová databáze

During the filming of the fairytale Salt is More Precious Gold, starring Karol Machata and Libuše Šafránková, the filmmakers made good use of the natural beauty of caves. The interiors were filmed, among other places, in the Demänovská Ice Cave and the Domica Cave in Slovakia. The caves gave the filmmakers a unique scenery to borrow: ice stalactites and stalagmites, which represented underground salt reserves in the movie.


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Singapur.Source: Pixabay

Singapore is one of the cleanest places on the Earth. There are strict laws in place that forbid citizens from spitting on sidewalks or throwing rubbish on the ground. Moreover, the traffic situation on the roads is strictly controlled in order to minimize the number of accidents. The citizens aren't afraid to use public transport, which serves more than two million passengers a day.


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Singapur.Source: Pixabay

The Aegean or Baltic Sea are ideal destinations for people with respiratory problems. The content of iodine and calcium ions is significantly higher by the sea than inland, the air contains less bacteria and pollen, which significantly helps regenerate the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. A stay by the seaside therefore significantly improves the health of allergy sufferers.


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Helena Vondráčková chodí radar do lesa na houby.
Helena Vondráčková chodí radar do lesa na houby.Source: Profimedia

Even the stars have ordinary hobbies. Helena Vondráčková, for example, likes to go to the forest and pick mushrooms. The forests are extremely important for the human race, because each tree absorbs up to 4 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year and produces 180 litres of oxygen per day. While resting, one person consumes about 360 litres of oxygen per day. That means we need an average of 2 trees to get our daily supply of oxygen. And if we decide to be more active, we need even more trees.

Historická vila na prodej, Praha 5 - 471m
Historická vila na prodej, Praha 5 - 471m, Praha 5

From the point of view of psychosomatics, the lungs are an organ of courage, self-confidence and self-esteem. Therefore let us take a deep breath every now and then and slow down the pace of our lives, otherwise we might end up cutting them short by several years.

Sources: Goethe Institute, Science, TV Newspapers, News, Le Parisien, own inquiry

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