The Importance of Nasal Breathing

A message from Seth Oberst, our resident Physical Therapist

In the past few months, people have been paying way more attention to breathing. And with good reason: our ability to breathe is a strong indicator of our overall health status. As a physical therapist, this renewed focus is a welcome development as I have worked with my patients for years on breathing. One aspect that has been missed in the discussion on breathing however, is the importance of nasal breathing in a person’s health. 

Breathing through your nose slows the air down and allows it to be filtered by tiny hairs in the nasal passages. This filtration provides an opportunity for bacteria, viruses, and pollutants to be captured and eliminated by the immune system, reducing the burden on the lungs. Nasal breathing also warms the air and mixes it with nitric oxide, which is produced in the nasal sinuses. Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator, which relaxes our blood vessels, decreases blood pressure and allows for improved oxygen delivery to our tissues. There is also evidence that nasal breathing, and the increase in nitric oxide, actually reduces replication of coronaviruses! 

These benefits do not occur with mouth breathing. When we breathe primarily through our mouths, we do not filter the air well nor do we mix it with nitric oxide. The result is poor oxygen delivery, higher blood pressure, and an increase in immune burden on the lungs. I could go on about the benefits of nasal breathing on oral health, how we can use it to help with jaw and dental pain conditions, and its effect on headaches, posture, etc. But I’ll save that for next time! 

Here are 2 things you can do right now to improve your respiratory health:
1) Breathe through your nose! The only time you should breathe through your mouth is when exercising at or near maximum intensity. At any other time, you should have your tongue suctioned to the roof of your mouth and your teeth slightly apart while breathing in and out through the nose. More on the mechanics of this later. But track how often you catch yourself with your mouth open, or even sleep with it open. Many of you will be surprised at how often this is occurring, especially while wearing a mask.

2) Hum! Humming has been shown to greatly increase nitric oxide production and reduce nasal congestion, helping you to breathe better through your nose. So try a breath in, through your nose of course, and exhale for as long as you can while humming. Then breathe in gently through your nose. Doing this for just a few minutes (set a timer for 3 minutes to start), and you will find it often helps to make it easier to breathe your nose. This is also a great stimulating technique for the vagus nerve, promoting a more balanced nervous system.

Happy (nasal) breathing!

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