Breathing is something we do automatically and frequently without thinking. However, many of us are doing it incorrectly, according to science journalist James Nestor. He spent a decade researching all the different ways humans breathe and put his findings in the immediate bestseller Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art, which will be released in May 2020. He refers to breathing as the "missing piece of health," as important to our well-being as "how much we exercise, what foods we eat, and how much we sleep."
Doing it incorrectly has dire consequences for our health, he claims, and contributes to sleep-disordered breathing problems such as snoring, sleep apnea, and insomnia; mental and behavioral conditions such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD; and medical issues such as high blood pressure, increased heart rate. Nestor claims that decades of research back this up. The way we breathe, however, is often ignored by the general public. What's the good news? We have the ability to change many of these conditions. All we have to do is correctly breathe.
Breathing Through Your Nose Vs. Your Mouth
Nasal breathing is the first step toward good breathing. To begin with, the lungs dislike cold, dry air. Before your breath reaches your lungs, nasal breathing warms and humidifies it. When you breathe through your nose, air goes past turbinates, which are bony structures in the nasal cavity covered in soft tissue known as mucosa. These turbinates are responsible for warming and humidifying your breath. Nose breathing also cleans the air you breathe, due to tiny hairlike filters called cilia that operate as filters in the nasal cavity. Cilia captures and traps dust, pollution, allergies, smoke, bacteria, viruses, and other material in the air you breathe. The garbage is eventually forced down your throat and ingested. Nose breathing also requires you to use your diaphragm, the muscle located beneath your lungs.
Diaphragmatic breathing, often known as belly breathing, improves lung efficiency by activating the lower lobes, which contain a higher percentage of blood than the upper lobes. But hold on, there's more. Breathing via your nose also boosts the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream more than mouth breathing, which is necessary for nearly every cell, organ, and tissue in your body. This is due to the fact that nasal breathing produces nitric oxide, which is a crucial chemical for blood vessel health. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, which means it relaxes and expands blood vessels, increasing circulation. This improves the flow of blood, nutrients, and oxygen throughout the body. Nitric acid also inhibits plaque formation and blood coagulation. In fact, a lack of nitric oxide in the body can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and erectile dysfunction.
Nasal breathing can also increase sports performance. In the 1990s, Dr. John Douillard, an elite athlete trainer, conducted multiple experiments comparing nose-breathing workouts versus mouth-breathing exercises by linking up a group of cyclists to sensors and recording their breathing and heart rates. He discovered no statistically significant change in heart rate between nose-breathing and mouth-breathing workouts. However, during nasal-breathing workouts, breath rates were consistently lower. At maximum activity on a stationary cycle, one participant exhibited a nose breathing rate of 14 breaths per minute compared to a mouth breathing rate of 48 breaths per minute.
On a self-reported scale of one to ten, with ten being the most stressful, nasal breathing reduced perceived exertion significantly. At maximum exertion on the stationary bike, participants assessed their felt exertion as a 10 when mouth breathing but a pleasant four when nose breathing. Nasal breathing also engaged the athletes' parasympathetic nervous system, indicating that when they breathed through their noses rather than their mouths, they were calmer and more relaxed.
Waiting for Exhalation
A 29-year research published in the journal Chest in 2000 revealed that lung capacity has a significant influence on health and survival. Individuals with smaller, less effective lungs are more prone to become ill and die. Nestor argues in his book that those with capacious lungs fared significantly better. And, he claims, humans may improve the capacity and size of their lungs, which he discovered while reporting freediving for Outside magazine. Freediving is a type of underwater diving in which you hold your breath for several minutes while diving hundreds of feet down into the sea. Athletes teach themselves to expand their lung capacity when training, often by as much as 30 to 40%, according to Nestor's book. They accomplish this by stretching their inhale and exhalation muscles longer and deeper. Nestor adds that by exhaling slowly, the diaphragm "wakes up" and grows more acclimated to a wider range, making it easier to breathe deeply.
There are dozens of breathing techniques available that can accomplish everything from enhance your body heat so you can survive high temperatures to cause you to hallucinate. However, if you're just getting started with breathing exercises, Nestor recommends keeping it easy. Even simple breathing techniques, he claims, "may be incredibly transforming." "That's what the studies have shown." To begin, Nestor recommends "coherent breathing," which entails inhaling slowly for five to six seconds and then exhaling for the same length of time.
Coherent breathing has been found in studies to lower your heart rate and blood pressure while improving the amount of oxygen to your brain. There are various YouTube videos that time your inhalations and exhalations so you don't have to check your watch. Several meditations, Ave Marias, and prayers, he claims, have the same respiratory rate. Nestor advocates exhaling longer than inhaling for those of us who are prone to anxiousness. For example, inhale for three counts, then exhale for six counts or longer. "When you exhale, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system," he explains. "In reality, you're hacking into your nerve system and slowing your heart rate."