You very likely breathe without thinking about it. Your body does it automatically, without much — if any — conscious effort on your behalf.
But it’s important to pay attention to how you breathe. In general, it’s healthier to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. That’s because nose breathing is more natural and helps your body effectively use the air you inhale.
Yet, it’s estimated that about 30 to 50 percent of adults breathe through their mouth, especially earlier in the day. This could potentially lead to health issues like bad breath and dry mouth.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the advantages of breathing through your nose, as well as simple nose breathing exercises you can try.
Your nose and mouth provide two ways to breathe. Both lead to your throat, which carries oxygen into your lungs. Even so, there are important differences between nose breathing and mouth breathing.
Your nose is designed to help you breathe safely, efficiently, and properly. It can do this due to its ability to:
- Filter out foreign particles. Nasal hair filters out dust, allergens, and pollen, which helps prevent them from entering your lungs.
- Humidify inhaled air. Your nose warms and moisturizes the air you breathe in. This brings the air you inhale to body temperature, making it easier for your lungs to use.
- Produce nitric oxide. During nasal breathing, your nose releases nitric oxide (NO). NO is a vasodilator, which means it helps to widen blood vessels. This can help improve oxygen circulation in your body.
Your mouth helps you eat, drink, and talk. You can also use your mouth to breathe, but it doesn’t have many of the unique features that your nose has for this purpose.
In some cases, mouth breathing is necessary. You might need to breathe through your mouth if you have:
- nasal congestion
- a deviated septum
- small nostrils
Yet, breathing primarily through your mouth is associated with some health risks. With mouth breathing, your mouth loses moisture, which can cause dry mouth. It could also increase your risk of:
- inhaling unfiltered air
- allergic reactions to allergens
- bad breath
- tooth decay
- gum inflammation (gingivitis)
- sleep apnea
- teeth or jaw abnormalities
Since your nose was specifically designed to help you breathe, nasal breathing has many advantages.
Nose breathing is beneficial primarily because it allows your nasal cavities to:
- reduce exposure to foreign substances
- humidify and warm inhaled air
- increase air flow to arteries, veins, and nerves
- increase oxygen uptake and circulation
- slow down breathing
- improve lung capacity
- strengthen the diaphragm
- lower your risk of allergies and hay fever
- reduce your risk of coughing
- aid your immune system
- lower your risk of snoring and sleep apnea
- support the correct formation of teeth and mouth
During exercise, many people breathe through their mouth. This can happen because faster breathing increases airflow resistance in your nose, causing you to switch to mouth breathing.
However, the evidence is mixed as to whether nose breathing is a better option than mouth breathing during exercise.
In a small 2018 study, 10 runners ran on a treadmill twice: once with nose breathing and once with mouth breathing. During each session, the researchers measured respiratory markers like oxygen consumption, respiratory rate, and carbon dioxide production.
The researchers found that the runners consumed the same amount of oxygen during nose and mouth breathing while running. But their respiratory rate, or number of breaths per minute, was lower during nose breathing.
This means it took less work to consume the same amount of oxygen with nose breathing, which could potentially improve athletic performance and endurance.
However, a small
The authors of this study determined that breathing technique doesn’t affect athletic performance, and that the mode of breathing during exercise should be decided by the individual.
Breathing exercises may help improve your nose breathing. These techniques may also help enhance your lung function, increase respiratory muscle strength, and relieve stress and anxiety.
Let’s look at three types of breathing exercises you can try.
1. Alternate nostril breathing
Alternate nostril breathing, or nadishodhana, is a common breathing exercise used in yoga.
In this technique, you inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other, while using your finger to close the opposite nostril.
The exercise requires focus, so it’s great for increasing mindfulness. It may also help enhance your lung function and decrease stress.
To try alternate nostril breathing, follow these steps:
- Sit up tall and relax your shoulders.
- Lay your left hand on your left knee.
- Place your right thumb on your right nostril. Inhale through your left nostril.
- Place your right ring finger on your left nostril. Exhale through your right nostril.
- Inhale through your right nostril.
- Return your right thumb to your right nostril. Exhale through your left nostril. This completes one set.
- Repeat for 5 minutes.
2. Belly breathing
Belly breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing or abdominal breathing. It involves taking slow, deep breaths in through your nose.
The goal is to breathe deep enough to fill your belly with air. This increases how much oxygen you take in, and may help slow down your breathing and heart rate.
Belly breathing also increases mindfulness and reduces stress. Here’s how to do it:
- Sit up tall and relax your shoulders. You can also lay down on your bed.
- Close your mouth. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest.
- Inhale slowly through your nose, letting your belly rise and fill with air. Your chest should stay still.
- Purse your lips and exhale slowly.
- Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Breath of Fire
Breath of Fire, or skull shining breath, is an exercise used in Kundalini yoga. It involves quick, strong exhalations and normal inhalations.
The technique may help improve respiratory function by engaging your respiratory muscles and diaphragm. It might also help boost your concentration and focus.
Here’s how to do Breath of Fire:
- Sit up tall and relax your shoulders.
- Place your hands on your belly. You can also put your hands on your knees, palms facing upward.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, imaging air moving down into your belly. Let your lower belly expand.
- Without stopping, exhale forcefully through your nose while letting your belly move in. Continue inhaling passively and exhaling forcefully.
- Repeat to practice the rhythm. Keep your inhales and exhales the same length.
- Speed up your inhales and exhales. Repeat for 30 seconds.
You may feel lightheaded while practicing this technique. If you’re new to the exercise, start slowly. You can try speeding it up over time.
Nose breathing is more beneficial than mouth breathing. Breathing through your nose can help filter out dust and allergens, boost your oxygen uptake, and humidify the air you breathe in.
Mouth breathing, on the other hand, can dry out your mouth. This may increase your risk of bad breath and gum inflammation. Mouth breathing may also make you more prone to allergies, asthma, and coughing.
To improve your nose breathing, try exercises like alternate nostril breathing, belly breathing, and Breath of Fire. These techniques may help you master nose breathing while enhancing your lung function and reducing stress.