The last couple of months I´ve been experimenting quite a bit with different breathing techniques. One of my current undertakings: I´m trying to increase my CO2 tolerance by practicing breath holding.
But there´s a second ´experiment´ I´m running parallel to that… nose breathing. By which I mean: breathing in and out through my nose AT ALL TIMES. Yeah right I can almost hear you think.. what´s the big deal!? Well I hereby challenge you: give it a try. I´ve found out after about a month of doing it that it´s not as easy as I thought. It might not be much of a challenge when you´re just sitting around doing nothing, but try to keep it up when you get a bit more active!
Nose breathing vs. mouth breathing?
There is a reason I´m trying so hard to master nose breathing. And that is, because there´s an insane amount of benefits attributed to it. Whereas breathing through the mouth causes quite a few problems, especially when you’re suffering from a lung disease. Experts now believe that asthmatics tend to breathe faster than people with normal lungs, and many also have a tendency to be mouth breathers.
So, let me take you through the nose vs mouth breathing battlefield. I could come up with a list of more than 15+ points, but let me list the 5 most striking benefits of nose breathing over mouth breathing:
- More usable oxygen! A misconception is that because air is inhaled more quickly through your mouth that mouth-breathing provides you more oxygen. But the fact is that mouth-breathing actually causes you to breathe excess air. Over breathing results in lower than normal CO2 levels which can result in narrowed airways and blood vessels, and less oxygen getting into the tissues (this is called the Bohr effect).
- Stronger immune system! Nose breathing triggers the release of anti-bacterial molecules helping to clean the incoming air and increase the functioning of the immune system.
- Less stress! Nose breathing drives oxygen more efficiently into the lower lobes of the lungs rather than staying in the upper lobes, as with mouth breathing. With nose breathing, all five lobes of the lungs are used to breathe rather than just the upper two. The lower lobes of the lungs have more parasympathetic, calming and repairing nerve receptors, which are activated during nose breathing. The upper lobes have more sympathetic (fight or flight) stress receptors that are activated during mouth breathing.
- Moisurizer! Our lungs don’t like dry air: air inhaled through the mouth cools, dries and irritates the airways, causing coughing and worsening of asthma and hay fever. Nose breathing moisturizes the incoming air. With the average person breathing 20,000 times a day, by breathing through the nose, you add one liter of water to your internal environment.
But then, the most important benefit of nose breathing over mouth breathing: increased production of nitric oxide….
What about nitric oxide?!
Nose breathing has been shown to increase the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is an important cellular signaling molecule in the body which has a hand in many favorable physiological processes. It’s involved with everything from the binding and release of oxygen and hemoglobin, to inhibiting inflammation. On top of that it’s linked to the destruction of viruses, expanding blood vessels, increasing blood flow, and protecting the organs from damage.
Nitric oxide is produced in a number of body tissues but what’s really relevant to anyone who breathes through their mouth is that nitric oxide is also produced in the nasal passages. When you breathe through your nose, your body can make use of this great substance, but as soon as we start breathing through the mouth, that’s no longer possible.
To put it simply, breathing through your mouth bypasses important parts of the breathing process, which is why there are so many negative health effects around mouth breathing. Research has linked abnormal nitric oxide levels with some serious health concerns such as high blood pressure, heart failure, atherosclerosis and strokes.
Nose breathing even during exercise?! YES PLEASE!
This is definitely the most challenging part for me. My (lung)health is in such a good state now that I have no problem breathing in and out of my nose most of the time. But it becomes challenging as soon as I start to exercise…
Breathing in through my nose is fine, but breathing out through my nose is more difficult. It takes more time to breathe out through my nose and that feels quite uncomfortable.
But the thing is: exhaling through your mouth sends signals to your brain indicating carbon dioxide is lost too rapidly, which causes goblet cells to produce mucous, slowing our breathing and causing constriction of our arteries and blood vessels. Constriction limits the amount of oxygen our body uses during strenuous exercise and reduces our energy. This obviously makes it more difficult to finish our work-out routines.
Long story short: nose breathing (at all times) is the way forward! It´s definitely on my list of new year resolutions :-). Oh, and as a bonus: nose breathers look better than mouth breathers. Check out this video on how mouth breathing changes your facial features!