We come into this world with a breath, and the process of breathing continues automatically for the rest of our lives. Every minute, breath fulfils its vital functions by providing oxygen to the body, controlling physical mechanisms in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels, and even reducing stress. We usually do not pay too much attention to it and take it for granted. Because breathing is such an integral process it gets into the spotlight only when something goes wrong.
Around 50% of us are habitual mouthbreathers, with females and children suffering the most. As we age, we switch to mouth breathing more and more. Plus, 40% of today’s population suffers from chronic nasal obstruction.
Nasal breathing bears a huge importance. Our breathing patterns impact our weight, health, lung size and function, immune response, and even lifespan. That is why it is of utmost importance to breathe through the nose.
What is nose breathing and why Is it important?
Nasal breathing is important for many functions in the body, including oxygenating blood and organs. Breathing through the nose creates more resistance than mouth breathing, leading to 10-20% greater oxygen uptake. Breathing through the nose also filters and warms the air, preventing congestion and dehydration. Breathing through the mouth causes the loss of heat and water, leading to inflammation and dehydration.
It’s best to breathe in and out through the nose to facilitate oxygenation and prevent congestion. Nasal breathing also helps maintain lung volume and makes breathing easier during both rest and exercise. Mouth breathing decreases lung capacity and makes breathing harder.
Nasal breathing and mouth breathing have different effects on the body:
When breathing through the nose, both inhaling and exhaling provide oxygen to the lungs and blood. The small size of the nostrils helps keep a flow of air moving back into the lungs during nasal exhalation.
Slower nasal exhalation allows the lungs more time to extract oxygen, and properly process carbon dioxide, which balances blood pH.
Nasal breathing controls important functions such as heart rate and blood pressure because when we breathe through the nose the air passes through the olfactory bulbs, which are connected to the part of the brain that controls those features.
Nitric oxide is produced during nasal breathing, which regulates inflammation and protects against airborne pathogens, viruses, and bacteria.
11 benefits of nose breathing for your health and wellness
1Wards off infections
Nitric oxide, which is produced in the nasal airways during breathing, has been found to inhibit the growth of various pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, which suggests that it could help protect the body from infection.
Researchers found that nitric oxide can stop the growth of bacteria and viruses, indicating it could help protect the body from infection. Studies have also suggested that nasal breathing can benefit patients with flu, and previous research has found that NO can inhibit the replication of various viruses.
The results of those previous studies came in handy during the COVID-19 outbreak. Canadian researchers started phase II clinical trials of a nasal spray containing nitric oxide to combat COVID-19 in June 2020. In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Dr. Christopher Miller, chief science officer at SaNOtize Research and Development Corp. said the product is, ‘Much like hand sanitiser for the nose.’ Thus, your own nose can protect you from coronavirus and other infections by itself, you just need to start using it 🙂.
2Nitric oxide is a vital gas produced during nose breathing
Nitric oxide (NO) was discovered not that long ago, in 1991. It was named ‘Molecule of the Year’ by Science magazine. This oxide plays a crucial role in the process of body oxygenation. NO is released into the nasal airways as we breathe, and every time we inhale through the nose, it helps open the airways and increase oxygen uptake by the blood. Nitric oxide also balances the flow of blood to the small air sacs in the lungs, which makes it easier for oxygen to be transported throughout the body. NO also helps relax blood vessels in the lungs, allowing for better blood flow. When we breathe through our mouths, we miss out on these benefits of NO. The concentration of NO originating from the nose is 100 times higher than in the lower airways.
Thus, what differs between mouth and nose breathing is that when we breathe with our mouth we have our lungs as an external organ which is not protected from pollutants and is easily exposed to all the damaging gases coming from the outside. Whereas when we inhale and exhale with our noses we filtrate the air with the help of NO and ensure all the necessary blood-oxygenation and circulation processes.
3Makes you sleep better
Nasal breathing increases nitric oxide production which has been linked to improved sleep.
Sleep deprivation is considered a public health epidemic, with many negative health consequences, including obesity, physical inactivity, heart disease, depression, diabetes, asthma, and other disorders. Due to various factors, such as artificial lighting and stressful schedules, between 35% and 50% of adults worldwide experience symptoms of insomnia.
Slowing down breathing for about 15-20 minutes before going to bed can help people with insomnia. The technique works by reducing thought activity and activating the parasympathetic relaxation response, which makes it easier for individuals to handle the physical symptoms of stress.
Researchers from the U.S. have explored the relationship between insomnia and slow breathing and found that slow breathing can increase vagal tone, promoting better quality sleep.
The below is the breathing exercise for falling asleep easier by Patrick McKeown – creator, CEO and Director of Education and Training at Oxygen Advantage:
Breathe Light and Slow
1. Begin by placing one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen.
2. Gradually slow down and soften your breathing, creating a slight desire for air.
3. Continue this practice for around 15 minutes.
This technique can be an effective way to alleviate sleep-disordered breathing while promoting relaxation and facilitating falling asleep more easily.
4Stimulates brain function
Studies have found that controlled nasal breathing can enhance certain cognitive processes, and participants who were breathing through the nose had faster response times.
Another study shows that during nasal breathing, especially when inhaling, certain brain areas are stimulated which leads to improved cognitive function.
Pulmonary function, predominantly defined by the way we breathe, is a long-term predictor for overall survival rates.
According to the studies, lung function can be a significant predictor of longevity. In the research, the risk of death is proven to be higher not only for people with severe breathing problems but also for participants with moderately impaired lung function. This suggests that the risk does not confine to a small group of people, but to a significant part of the population as 40% of us are suffering from nasal obstruction and 50% of us are mouth breathers.
6Reduces stress and anxiety
Nose breathing can help to reduce stress and anxiety by activating the relaxation response and promoting a sense of calm. Also, nose breathing slows the breath down by providing more resistance, which has a direct impact on the nervous system.
In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, participants were told they would receive electric shocks. Before the shocks (which were never administered), some participants consciously breathed slowly, while others breathed normally or did not regulate their breathing at all. As measured by sweat and blood flow to the fingers, the slow breathers reported feeling less anxious about the pain as well as feeling less anxious physically.
The advantages experienced by attendees of a 12-week yoga breathing course in the UK had a profound impact, as per findings from the University of Southampton. They expressed feelings of being ‘more empowered,’ and anxiety no longer having a crippling effect. Furthermore, one individual reported significant boosts in confidence, mindfulness, and spirituality, as well as a greater aptitude for relaxation.
7Enhances athletic performance
Nose breathing during exercise can help to improve endurance and oxygen utilization, as well as reduce the risk of fatigue and injury.
Longer, slower exhalations, of course, lead to higher levels of carbon dioxide. Our aerobic endurance increases as a result of the extra carbon dioxide. VO₂ max, or maximum oxygen consumption, is a measure of cardiorespiratory fitness. As a result of training the body to breathe less, our VO₂ max increases, which boosts our athletic stamina, what is moreб it can help us live longer and healthier.
A study examined 20,000 soldiers who were subjected to train their CO₂ resistance in high-altitude areas (mountains). The results showed that training in this way can produce better aerobic and anaerobic capacity in most athletes. It can allow the body to stimulate anaerobic glycolysis (the process by which blood sugar is broken down to form energy-giving lactate) without risk of injury. It improves the strength of the breathing muscles and tolerance to breathlessness. It gives increased VO2 max and produces better running economy, better-repeated sprint ability for team sports, and better-sustained fitness during rest or injury.
8Reduces risks of chronic diseases
Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, the way we breathe has changed markedly since our ability to breathe has changed through long processes of evolution. Pundids discovered that 90% of us are breathing incorrectly and that this failure is either causing or aggravating a laundry list of chronic diseases such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, COPD and ad infinitum.
The study of soldiers, mentioned above, found that time participants spent at high altitudes (training their nose breathing and CO₂ resistance) were associated with a statistically significant lower incidence of many physical illnesses, including respiratory infections, high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and skin diseases. At high altitudes, the number of psychiatric disorders dropped more than halved, despite the monotony of the surroundings and family isolation anxiety.
9Aids cardiovascular function
Proper breathing is closely correlated with heart health. Study shows that left nostril breathing is associated with a decrease in cardiovascular parameters and an increase in vital capacity which is an indicator of coronary artery disease risk.
On the contrary, habitual snoring, a result of night mouth breathing, for two or more nights per week was reported to be associated with a 25% higher risk of stroke.
10Helps to maintain normal blood pressure
Blood vessels are widened by nitric oxide, providing more oxygen to the blood. By doing so, the blood pressure is maintained at a lower level. Dr. Hernan Chang, in the book Nitric Oxide: The Mighty Molecule, says that heart, endocrine, and immune health depend on nitric oxide, which plays a vital role in every system in the body.
As we breathe through our noses, we release hormones that regulate blood pressure as well as monitor and adjust our heart rate in order to maintain a state of balance in our bodies.
The study that examined the result of the left nostril breathing exercises showed that participants had a significant (but healthy) drop in both systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure. The levels went from 126.6 and 76.6 mm Hg to 116 and 71 mm Hg, respectively.
Breathing through the nose can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which can promote a state of relaxation and calm. Nasal breathing filters and warms the air before it enters the lungs, and the resistance created by nasal breathing makes the breathing slower and deeper, engaging the diaphragm and calming the mind.
Breathing is not just about taking in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide. It is a complex process that affects our overall health, immune response, and brain function. Breathing through the nose, as opposed to the mouth, is the most natural way for every human created by evolution and offers a plethora of benefits, including improved immune response, better sleep quality, and enhanced brain function. To get all the benefits and bring your health and life quality to the next level, you should pay attention to the way you breathe and try to incorporate breathing exercises as a part of your daily routine. You will definitely not regret it.
Not enough? Here are some more from our colleagues
In this podcast, Andrew Huberman is hosting Dr. Jack Feldman, a Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology at the University of California, Los Angeles and a pioneering world expert in the science of breathing. Together they discuss how and why humans breathe the way we do and the influence of breathing on mental state, fear, memory, reaction time, and more.
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