August 9, 2007 / 9:38 PM / in 12 years

Diver bests own breath-holding record

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Oxygen is optional for Tom Sietas, who smashed his own world record for holding his breath underwater on Thursday, breaking the 15-minute barrier on national television,

Sietas remained submerged in an on-set tank for 15 minutes and 2 seconds, beating his previous Guinness record time by 37 seconds, while television hosts Regis Philbin and Kathy Ripa chatted alongside.

“I’m hungry,” said Sietas, who slows his metabolism with five-hour pre-stunt fasts, upon emerging triumphant.

“I think I’m going to McDonalds.”

Sietas, a 30-year-old German who is also an engineering student, entered the world of competitive oxygen deprivation when a scuba instructor he hired during a Jamaican holiday noticed his ability to hold his breath.

Since then he had held 12 world records, although only two stand. Thursday’s feat was assisted by the inhalation of 20 minutes of pure oxygen. But Sietas also holds the world record, at 9 minutes and 8 seconds, for holding his breath underwater without inhaling oxygen first.

Sietas has some natural advantages, such as lungs that are 20 percent larger than average for his size, said Dr. Marc Spero, a lung expert affiliated with the Divers Alert Network.

He also manages not to move in a situation that would have most people splashing and gasping for, well, air. A corpse-like stillness is central to his success, as it decreases his need for oxygen, Spero said.

Underwater, Sietas clears his mind.

“Let’s say I had an argument with my girlfriend, I would get upset, and my heart rate would go up. I really don’t think about anything,” Sietas said.

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