Breathing is a fundamental pillar that keeps us living together with eating, moving and sleeping. But what sets breathing apart is that we can survive for weeks without food, days without water and minutes (or seconds in some cases) without breath.
And yes, of course, we should be able to breathe right without being taught how to do it as it is our innate ability, right? So the same goes for eating, moving and sleeping? Modern society has given us an array of ineffably awesome advantages but mastery of the fundamentals is not one of them.
In our modern society, 40% of us suffer from chronic nasal obstructions, and half of us mouth-breathe. The way we breathe affects everything from our weight to our health to the size and function of our lungs, our immune system, and even our lifespan. That is why it is vital not to use most for inhaling and exhaling.
10 aspects of dysfunctional breathing that damage your health and life quality
Breathing through your mouth or experiencing other types of dysfunctional breathing such as breathing too deeply, breathing too fast (both symptoms of hyperventilation), upper chest breathing during rest, or breathing irregularly with frequent breath holding or sighing cause a detrimental effect on our health.
1Makes your lungs vulnerable and makes you more susceptible to infections
When you are using your mouth instead of your nose for inhaling and exhaling the lungs are becoming an external organ. They are not protected from pollutants. Also, nose breathing provides nitric oxide that filters the air and acts like antiseptic killing bacteria and viruses. The concentration of NO originating from the nose is 100 times higher than in the lower airways. Mouth breathing cannot boast of these benefits, it brims only with harmful downsides. What is more, mouth breathing reduces lung function and this leads to the aggravation of lung disease symptoms like asthma and COPD.
2Negatively influence the brain function
Oxygen is essential for our brain. The brain of an average person can last for 4 minutes without oxygen and then death occurs. Studies prove that oral breathing can increase the risk of brain functional problems as a result of lower oxygen saturation.
If a child has a stuffy nose and breathes through their mouth while sleeping, they may wake up feeling tired and struggling to focus in school. This can lead to a psychological evaluation and a possible diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) if the problem persists. Children with ADHD are more likely to have nasal congestion and hay fever. Moreover, 40% of children who have sleep disorders such as snoring or sleep apnea may develop ADD, ADHD, or a learning disability. If a child snores at the age of 8 and doesn’t get treated, they have an 80% chance of having a permanent 20% reduction in mental capacity.
3Deteriorates cardiovascular health
For our cardiovascular system to function properly we need oxygen. The mouth is a bigger airway than the nose so this may lead to misconstruing the role of the nose, some may think that breathing through the mouth can provide our heart with oxygen. But it is not true. Mouth breathing leads to lower oxygen concentration in blood. A study shows that nasal breathing results in about 10% greater oxygenation than mouth breathing. This has a negative effect on cardiovascular health and may lead to heart disease.
Observational studies have indicated that sleep disorder breathing (mouth breathing is one of its characteristics) is associated with a high risk of serious disease including sudden death, stroke, coronary artery disease, and heart failure.
In a study that followed over 10,000 people for around 5 years, those who experienced hypoxemia (significant drops in nighttime oxygen levels) were almost twice as likely to experience sudden cardiac death.
4Impairs physical performance
When running, jumping with a skipping rope or doing HIIT or any other physical activity most of us tend to experience breathlessness (to some extent) and the first thing we want to do is to take a big breath with our mouth. It is often thought that when being breathless mouth breathing will help to renew oxygen levels quicker. But it is a misconception.
Quick, big inhalation and exhalation lead to less oxygen and worsen physical performance. Proper breathing also positively affects VO2 max, or maximum oxygen consumption, a measure of cardiorespiratory fitness. On contrary, mouth breathing can lead to muscle pain, cramping, twitching, weakness, stiffness and tetany, these factors definitely do not favour physical performance.
A study researched whether the body reacts differently to physical activity when using nasal breathing instead of mouth breathing. The results showed that nasal breathing positively influences athletic performance, while oral breathing does the opposite. For instance, participants reported having 34-38% less lactic acid emission, high levels of lactic acid can lead to muscle fatigue, pain, and cramping so you cannot exercise efficiently. Mouth breathing also leads to a higher level of heart rate: 139 with nasal breathing and 155 with mouth breathing.
5Affects the quality of sleep
Dysfunctional breathing is often a culprit of bad sleep quality. Mouth breathing leads to snoring while sleeping and a dry, sore throat afterwards. People who primarily breathe through their mouth rather than their nose have an increased likelihood of experiencing sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea – a disorder when breathing stops and starts while you sleep. Children who breathe through their mouths may also develop obstructive sleep apnea, which has been associated by healthcare providers with problems in learning and behaviour.
In a study, patients with nasal airway obstruction who underwent treatment showed a significant improvement in obstructive sleep apnea symptoms.
6Exacerbates stress and other mental conditions
Elissa Epel, PhD, Professor and Vice Chair for Adult Psychology shares that ‘if we’re breathing really shallowly and fast, it causes our nervous system to up-regulate and we feel tense and anxious.’
The negative effect of mouth breathing on our mental well-being was also shown by a 2011 research paper. It investigated the consequences of brief periods of forced oral breathing on young rats. Findings indicated that even a brief blockage of the nasal passage resulted in significant hormonal changes, including a 1,000% increase in stress hormones.
7Weakening your bones
It seems almost impossible for the way we breathe to affect our bones, but it does make difference.
Overbreathing can lead to inadequate oxygen delivery to cells due to offloading too much carbon dioxide. In response, cells undergo chronic anaerobic metabolism and the kidneys excrete bicarbonate into urine to balance pH, which ‘steals’ important minerals from the blood. This prompts the bones to dissolve minerals back into the blood, which weakens them, resulting in a remarkable but alarming response from the body.
8Impacts speech and auditory processing in children
A study conducted in 2011 analysed the impact of persistent nasal blockages on speech in children aged 4 to 12 years old. The study revealed that 76.6% of the children with nasal obstructions experienced dysphonia, which results from anatomical disorders in the throat, mouth, tongue, or vocal cords. In addition, over 68% of the children with blocked nasal passages displayed vocal abuse, a behavioural condition that can strain the vocal cords.
9Causes crooked teeth and bad breath
Mouth breathing is detrimental when it comes to maintaining a healthy mouth and fresh breath. It can lead to problems in the development of the face, such as narrow jaws, crooked, overcrowded teeth, and small upper airways.
Breathing comes to be such an innate crucial aspect of our being, health and wellness that it even affects our posture.
Dysfunctional breathing often arises from poor coordination of the diaphragm, abdominal muscles, and muscles of the rib cage, which is closely linked to posture. The diaphragm is a crucial breathing muscle located at the bottom of the ribs that moves downwards by one or two centimetres with each breath during rest. Inadequate space for the diaphragm to move freely due to poor posture, such as slumping over a desk, can impede effective breathing. Effective diaphragm breathing is critical in maintaining spinal stability, and faulty breathing may result in lower back pain or upper chest breathing due to tension in the neck and back.
Such a simple, unnoticeable process as breathing plays a really integral role in our overall health. The way we breathe affects almost every aspect of our health and quality of life. It is high time to start paying attention to the way we breathe as any type of dysfunctional breathing can have unpleasant results going from bad breath too weak cardiovascular health. At the same time, we can always rely on our noses as breathing through them protects us and improves wellness and life.
Not enough? Here is more from our colleagues
We highly recommend the book ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’ by James Nestor for anyone interested in the fascinating science of breathing and its impact on our health, fitness, and overall well-being. Through personal anecdotes, historical research, and cutting-edge science, Nestor takes readers on a journey of discovery about the power of breathing and how we can optimize our breath to live healthier and happier lives. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to better understand the importance of proper breathing techniques and the many benefits they offer.
James Nestor is an award-winning science journalist, who is travelling the world to find out what went wrong in our evolution of breathing and how to fix it. He is the author of the book ‘Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art’ which has become an international bestseller. In this video, he shares 5 ways to transform your breathing and stop breathing through your mouth.
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