Breathing is one of the most natural things we do – in fact, our bodies do it for us without a second thought even while we work, eat, or sleep. However, just because this bodily function is so automatic (and often, understandably, taken for granted), doesn’t mean that we are all doing it correctly. Breathing can be negatively influenced by many factors such as stress, sitting at a desk all day, eating processed foods, and excessive talking. These factors are all too common in modern life, leaving many of us with poor breathing habits.
Some experts estimate that approximately one-third of the population doesn’t breathe effectively enough to sustain normal health. These people do not get enough oxygenation of their cells, tissues, and organs. Poor breathing could be an undetected reason for many health issues, including poor immunity, insomnia, and heart disease.
The most common problem with breathing is inhaling through the mouth, rather than the nose. Read on to discover the many reasons why you should become a devoted nose breather, and how to retrain your breathing for optimal health.
Nose breathing moistens and filters the air
There are two ways to breathe—through your mouth and your nose. The nostrils filter, warm and humidify the air in a way that the mouth cannot. The hairs that line the nostrils filter out the particles from the air, while an enzyme in the mucus that lines the nasal passage helps to kill any viruses or bacteria that might be entering. The air also passes over the adenoids and the tonsils, which helps to filter it before it reaches the lungs.
Nose breathing improves oxygen absorption and lung capacity
Nose breathing creates more resistance on the incoming air stream, as compared to mouth breathing. This results in 10 to 20 percent more oxygen uptake and better lung elasticity. Nasal breathing (as opposed to mouth breathing) improves the balance of blood oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, slows the breathing rate, and improves the strength and volume of the lungs.
Nose breathing reduces your chances of getting sick
Mouth breathing results in the mouth becoming dry, and pollutants and germs get drawn directly into the lungs. Cold and dry air in the airways makes mucus thicker, impedes the in-built cleaning action of the lungs, and slows down the passage of oxygen into the bloodstream. This increases the risk of mouth and throat infections. Conversely, nose breathing could help prevent colds, flu, allergic reaction, hay fever, and irritable coughing by preventing these issues.
Nose breathing lowers your stress response
When done properly, nose breathing encourages the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the opposite of the stress response. This results in the normalizing of blood pressure, a reduction of stress, and the strengthening of the immune system.
Nose breathing improves cognitive function
Amongst all the other benefits, nose breathing could also improve brain performance and memory. Researchers found that people asked to sniff different smells, and then breathe through either their mouth or their nose following the experiment, were better able to recall the smells if they breathed through their nose. This effect is believed to be due to a link between inhalation and the activation of an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in memory and recall.
Nose breathing could protect your heart health
Breathing through the nose causes the production of a gas called nitric oxide. Enzymes in the nose and sinuses produce this gas, resulting in the dilation of the bronchioles in the lungs, and the widening of blood vessels. This process, in turn, helps lower blood pressure and significantly increases the oxygen-absorbing capacity of the lungs. Scientists have reported that nitric oxide plays an important role in cardiovascular health and reducing heart disease. Conversely, if a person is breathing through their mouth, this beneficial nitric oxide generation cannot occur, putting heart health at risk.
How to improve your breathing for better health
If you want to reduce your risk of disease and improve your health through better breathing, you can accomplish this through the regular practice of a few simple exercises. Doing these exercises will help increase breath control and capacity over time.
Exercise 1: Four-Count Breathing
- Begin by sitting or lying down in a comfortable position. Your eyes can be open or closed.
- Inhale for 4 counts, and then exhale for 4 counts. All inhalations and exhalations should be made through your nose, which adds a slight, natural resistance to your breath.
- Once you get these basics down, try 6–8 counts per breath.
Exercise 2: Alternate Nostril Breathing
- Choose a comfortable seated position.
- After an exhale, use your right thumb to gently close your right nostril.
- Inhale through your left nostril and then close your left nostril with your fingers.
- Release your thumb and exhale out through your right nostril.
- Inhale through your right nostril and then close this nostril.
- Release your fingers to open your left nostril and exhale through this side.
- This is one cycle. Continue this breathing pattern for up to 5 minutes, remembering to switch your hand position after the inhale.
- Finish your session with an exhale on the left side.
Exercise 3: Belly Breathing
- Lay down and place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing your belly (not your chest) to inflate with enough air to create a slight stretching sensation in your lungs.
- Slowly exhale. Aim to take 6 to 10 slow breaths per minute, for up to 10 minutes.
Paying a little bit more attention to your breathing can provide major health benefits in the long term, so why not practice better breathing today.