The benefits of nasal breathing

breathing running form Oct 29, 2021
Ryan sandes running while nasal breathing

Did you know that 80% of back pain is associated with some sort of breathing pattern disorder? If you dont breathe well, you dont move well, its that simple. So, how should you be breathing in the day, at night, while relaxed and during exercise?

Why nasal breathing is important

I always tell my clients that noses are for breathing and mouths are for eating and talking. 

Its important to breathe through your nose when you sleep as nasal breathing helps to regulate heart rate and boost recovery between hard exercise sessions.

How? Well, your nose moistens the air you breathe and filters out microbes and bacteria particles, as well as increases the production of nitric oxide in the sinuses. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which helps to enlarge and relax your lungs every time you breathe. People who practice nasal breathing are 15-17% more efficient in oxygen transfer into the bloodstream than those who mouth breathe. This is massive!

Additionally, nasal breathing at night helps to:

  • Reduce overall inflammation in the body (mouth breathing dries out the lungs, which can cause irritation and inflammation)
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Enhance memory
  • Boost the immune system
  • Strengthen the diaphragm
  • Slow down breathing

When it comes to the benefits of nasal breathing during exercise, it helps to:

  • Moisten and warm cool and/or dry air
  • Encourage diaphragmatic breathing (using the diaphragm more to breath deeper)
  • Improve lung capacity
  • Regulate the heart rate
  • Increase oxygen uptake

The problem with mouth breathing

If you wake up with a dry mouth every morning, chances are youre mouth breathing most of the time. Mouth breathing disrupts regular breathing patterns and can lead to excessive snoring, sleeping difficulty and sleep apnoea, which is when your breathing becomes irregular, and stops and starts while you sleep. Obstructive sleep apnoea can cause a host of problems such as excessive daytime fatigue, irritability, high blood pressure, heart problems and liver issues, to name a few.

Mouth breathers are also at risk of developing dental problems as it can disrupt the natural positioning of the jaw which can lead to jaw pain, teeth grinding or an irregular bite and increased cavities. Bad breath is also another symptom of mouth breathing.

To avoid mouth breathing at night, consider using Myotape Sleep Strips. These dont cover the mouth entirely, but rather sit around the lips to gently encourage them to stay closed at night. Its not as scary as it sounds, you can open your mouth at any time! 

If you have severe sleep apnea or difficulty breathing through your nose, you should consult a specialist.

ALSO SEE: Breathing and running

Do this simple test to feel the difference between nasal breathing and mouth breathing: 

Sit or stand upright and take a full breath through your nose. While you do this, notice what part of your chest moves, and breathe out. Do the same through your mouth and notice what part of your chest moves. Then alternate between the two for a few breaths.

You may notice that when you mouth breathe, only the top of your chest moves, whereas the whole diaphragm and lower ribs move with nasal breathing, which allows you to draw air deeper into your lungs. This compounded with the nitric oxide produced by your sinuses makes this type of breathing more efficient.

If you battle to nasal breathe when you run, start by practicing it when you walk and see if that’s doable. You’ll get more used to it as time goes and learn how to dilate your nostrils a little as you breathe.

With enough practice, some athletes can reach 90% of their heart rates while nasal breathing, most people can nose breath up to around 70 to 80% of their maximum heart rate. It’s interesting to watch Olympian runners and athletes and note how controlled most of their breathing is.

However, if you really struggle to breathe through your nose due to a complication such as a deviated septum, broken nose or serious congestion, please seek professional advice before you attempt nasal breathing.

I talk more about the power of nasal breathing and all things running in this recent podcast I did with Dr Mark Cucuzzella. You can also read the blog about it here.

Main image credit: Craig Kolesky / Red Bull Content Pool

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