How long can you hold your breath? After answering, consider that the official world record for the feat is 11 minutes and 35 seconds, achieved by a French diver in 2009. Another man unofficially broke the mark by 19 seconds in 2014. (The first is accredited by the International Association for the Development of Apnea, the second by Guinness.) If either sounds impossible, a New Yorker story on the unusual world of competitive breath-holding explains all. Those who take part do so on the theory that they can push through perceived physical limits because those limits are actually just warning signals, writes Alex Hutchinson. They do so, however, at obvious risk. It's "surprisingly easy" for a free diver to lose consciousness under water, says one scientist who studied those who test the extremes. Meanwhile, a new study suggests that those who regularly indulge in the practice may be risking cognitive harm.
"Apnea is not different from many other sports, in the sense that practice at a high level often leads to deleterious impacts on human physiology," says the French researcher whose study last year suggested that decline. The more diving participants had done, the worse they performed on his series of tests. So why risk it? It may be the simple allure involved. "Humans test their limits in an endless variety of ways, but none is simpler or more elemental than breath-holding," writes Hutchinson. "You simply deprive your body of its most urgent need until you can't anymore." Click for the full story, which notes that, yes, David Blaine once held his breath for more than 17 minutes on Oprah's show. But he did so after breathing pure oxygen beforehand. The current oxygen-assisted record is now more than 24 minutes. (Read more breathing stories.)