Lillian Wilson

Most Of Us Aren’t Breathing Correctly: Causes And Five Ways To Fix It

How you can improve your breathing habits in four simple steps and say goodbye to inefficient respiration once and for all.

woman breathing through nose

A modern way of living is all about rushing, trying to keep up with everything we have on our plates. The constant rush makes us inattentive to some innate and essential processes including the way we breathe. While it is tough to precisely say how many people have developed dysfunctional breathing patterns, various studies report that from 30 to 70% of people are breathing incorrectly.

The way we breathe, whether we overbreathe, or breathe through the mouth or nose significantly defines all bodily processes and overall health. And sometimes problems like indigestion, poor sleep quality, snoring, low attention span and many more can be attributed to breathing and we can fix this by ceasing taking breathing for granted.

What makes you breathe improperly?

There are various patterns of dysfunctional breathing such as mouth breathing, chest breathing that puts strain on your neck and back and doesn’t provide enough oxygen, hyperventilation, overbreathing and others.

Any of these poor breathing patterns deprives you of enough oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide that ensure a strong immune system, blood circulation, healthy heart and blood pressure, good sleep, oral health and even cognitive and energy levels. Breathing correctly is extremely important for your health and well-being.

There are various reasons that might make you develop poor breathing habits. They are mainly divided into three groups:


There are mental and emotional aspects, which might manifest as poor breathing caused by stress, anxiety, or depression. For instance, stress at the workplace is reported to cause email apnea – an unconscious breath-holding when working.

75% of anxiety sufferers report dysfunctional breathing patterns Source: The BMJ

In a study, 75% of people who experienced anxiety were reported to have dysfunctional breathing patterns. Hyperventilation, the most common type of dysfunctional breathing pattern, affects 1 in 10 people. There is a greater risk of chronic hyperventilation in people who worry a lot.


Smoking reduces lung capacity by changing the structure of the lungs and interfering with their ability to expand and contract properly. It also increases inflammation in the lungs, which interferes with oxygen exchange. This bad habit is also a major factor in COPD. All of these factors contribute to the development of dysfunctional breathing patterns.

Sedentary lifestyle

80% of modern jobs are sedentary and lack of physical activity and exercise can weaken the muscles needed for proper breathing. Sitting for too long causes your blood flow to slow down and can cause clots to form in your lungs if they stay there for too long.

Poor posture

Such a common thing as slouching or sitting with your shoulders hunched forward can compress your lungs, making it difficult to take deep breaths. When compressing your lungs and not giving the diaphragm enough space to move leads to chest breathing which belongs to poor breathing habits. During chest breathing, muscles in our shoulders, necks, and chests expand our lungs, which can cause neck pain, headaches, and injury.



Poor air quality can affect the way we breathe. According to the World Health Organisation, 92% of the world’s population breathes air that contains more pollutants than the WHO recommended levels. Asthma flare-ups, difficulty breathing, and other lung disorders can be caused by polluted air.

Medical conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and sleep apnoea, can worsen breathing patterns and contribute to poor breathing habits.

BOLT: a simple test to determine if you’re breathing correctly

Patrick McKeown is a breathing coach and expert in the Buteyko breathing method. His body oxygen level test (BOLT) is a simple breathing test that measures the length of time you can comfortably hold your breath after exhaling. The test measures the body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide, which is a key factor in proper breathing. The longer you can hold your breath, the better the CO2 tolerance, which indicates a more efficient breathing pattern.

A high BOLT score indicates that a person is breathing optimally and efficiently, while a low score may suggest a breathing pattern disorder.


1. Breathe in and out through your nose.

2. Start your timer and hold your nose with your fingers and time how long it takes until you feel the urge to breathe. This is not about how long you can hold your breath but how long until your body reacts to a lack of air.

3. Once you release your nose, take a calm breath in through your nose and resume normal breathing.

BOLT results interpretation

Below 10 seconds: Your breathing patterns can be characterised by noise, irregularity, and difficulty. Frequent sighing or yawning and interrupted sleep leave you feeling tired. Practising breathing exercises that relieve breathlessness can have a significant positive impact on your well-being and physical abilities.

10-20 seconds: This result shows that you might be having a blocked nose, wheezing, or coughing and this compromises your breathing. You might experience trouble sleeping, and lack of energy and concentration. Increasing the BOLT score vis breathing exercises will improve sleep quality, reduces breathlessness, and improves health.

20-30 seconds: Your breathing is normal, smooth, quiet, and effortless. BOLT scores of around 20 seconds are considered good. The more you improve it, the better your health and fitness will be.

40 seconds: This result is an ideal one for a healthy adult. Your breathing is effortless, calm and quiet. It is difficult to see the movements of your chest as you breathe. Breathing rates during rest range from 6 to 10 minimal breaths per minute.

Four rules to ensure proper breathing

1Use your nose for breathing

Nasal breathing protects your body from infections and bacteria that are coming from polluted air. When breathing through the nose 1000 times more nitric oxide is produced. This oxide promotes oxygenation, and blood circulation and kills bacteria.

Nasal breathing also enhances physical and mental performance as well as lowers stress levels.

Oral breathing is the complete opposite of nasal one and has a plethora of detrimental effects that go from bad breath to higher stroke risks.

If you have noticed that you are using the mouth for breathing you should try to restore nasal breathing. To do so you should, first of all, decongest your nose with the help of nasal drops or breathwork, and practise breathing exercises on daily basis. Plus, if you are a nigh-time mouth breather, you could try the mouth taping technique.

For more detailed information on restoring nasal breathing, you may read:

2Use your diaphragm for breathing

Diaphragm is a thin sheet-like muscle that is situated at the bottom of the ribs that moves up and down as we breathe. Diaphragmatic or belly breathing is an innate way of breathing for humans.

By practising diaphragmatic breathing we are using full 100% lung capacity. This makes breathing more efficient and promotes slow, light nose breathing, which is the only right way to breathe. During light breathing, all your organs are massaged, your chest muscles are strengthened, and your digestion is improved.

3Practise breathing exercises

By engaging in regular breathwork practice you will improve your breathing patterns and your BOLT score will rise.

Breathing exercises will help to eliminate everything that makes you breathe improperly. For instance, Patrick McKeown, a founder of breathing training the Oxygen Advantage, reported a reduction of 50% of asthma symptoms in his patients after practising breathwork only for two weeks.

Breathwork is also capable of treating hyperventilation. In a study, breathing exercises significantly reduced the frequency and severity of hyperventilation attacks compared with the control group.

Taking up breathing exercises also makes you get used to nasal breathing and cease the oral breathing habit.

Thus, the more you use your nose, the more efficient your breathing will become.

4Maintain healthy habits


When it comes to boosting lung health and capacity, simple lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated and quitting smoking can really help.

Similar to how physical exercise strengthens your muscles, it can also strengthen your heart and lungs. Exercise aids your body in utilising the oxygen it receives, which is referred to as lung function. Individuals suffering from lung diseases such as COPD, typically use more energy to breathe compared to others. By exercising regularly, individuals can reduce their symptoms and improve their breathing. Higher levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity are positively associated with better lung function.

To ensure lung health and breathing efficiency it is important to drink plenty of water. Hydrating your body can aid in the reduction of the thickness and stickiness of the mucus that lines the airways and lungs. When dehydrated, the mucus becomes thicker and stickier, which can impede overall respiration and increase susceptibility to respiratory issues, allergies, and illness.

And last but not least, when having a meal you should listen to your body and never overeat. Eating too much makes us bloated and leaves not enough space for the diaphragm to move. Diaphragmatic breathing has a long list of benefits, so make sore not to do yourself out of them.

Let’s summarise

It is easy to overlook the importance of proper breathing and this can lead to a range of health problems and reduced quality of life. However, there are simple steps we can take to address this issue and significantly improve our overall well-being. By focusing on breathing through the nose, using the diaphragm, practising breathing exercises, and maintaining healthy habits, we can indulge in all the benefits proper nasal breathing proposes to us. So, let’s take a moment to pay attention to our breath and make a positive change for our overall health and wellness.

Not enough? Here is more

If after reading this article you have become more curious about breathing and want to dive deeper into the world of ultimate health provided by nasal breathing, we would like to recommend you a few books on breathing topics. Our Healthypedia’s editors have chosen the top 5 books about breathing. Everyone will find something in this selection of books whether you are looking for something easy-to-read or a heavy-on-science book to learn everything that hides behind an innate process of breathing.

Healthypedia FAQ

Proper breathing is important for many reasons. It can help reduce stress and anxiety, improve athletic performance, reduce chronic pain, and enhance overall health and well-being.

Belly breathing, also known as diaphragmatic breathing or horizontal breathing, is a breathing technique that involves inhaling using your belly. Your belly should come outward as you take in air, and you’ll feel your lungs opening up. This draws oxygen all the way down to the bottom of your lungs. As you exhale, your stomach will come back in, and your rib cage will contract. This uses the diaphragm muscle to make sure you get the optimal amount of air.

Improper breathing can be caused by a breathing pattern disorder, physical injuries or abnormalities in the respiratory muscles, and mental or emotional stress.

There are several ways to improve your breathing, including practising belly breathing, using your nose to breathe, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, seeking medical treatment for respiratory issues, and staying aware of air quality.

A breathing pattern disorder is a problem where breathing is difficult and can cause symptoms like a feeling of breathlessness. It happens when someone forms a habit of breathing in a certain way, either because of their emotions or body functions. For example, a person might breathe too deeply or too quickly, or only use their upper chest for breathing when they're resting. They might also breathe irregularly and frequently hold their breath or sigh.

Yes, improper breathing can lead to a wide range of health problems, from stress and anxiety to chronic pain and fatigue. It can also contribute to respiratory issues like asthma and COPD. By improving your breathing, you can enhance your overall health and well-being.

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