Did you know you can improve your health and fitness simply by learning to breathe correctly? It's true. As noted in the featured articles,1,2 breathing correctly will optimize oxygenation to your muscles and internal organs, and help you:
Lower your blood pressure
Reduce stress and anxiety by lowering the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, and releasing mood-boosting hormones like serotonin
Balance your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems
Improve athletic performance
Improve mental focus and boost brain health
While you may think there's nothing anyone can teach you about breathing—after all, you do it all day long, without giving it a second thought—chances are you may be breathing incorrectly without even realizing it.
Most people overbreathe—in other words, they chronically hyperventilate3 — and during exercise this can have a number of adverse consequences. Mouth breathing is another common mistake, especially during more vigorous exercise.
Mouth and nose breathing differ dramatically in terms of the depth of your breath, how the air is "prepared," and the physical effects they produce.
For example, during exercise, breathing through your nose will help you optimize performance, endurance, post-exercise energy levels, and even your ability to metabolize fat.4
So the first step to attaining optimal breathing is to breathe through your nose, not through your mouth, and this applies both in and outside of the gym.
Signs of Inefficient Breathing
How do you know if you're breathing incorrectly? As noted by Patrick McKeown, one of the leading teachers of the Buteyko Breathing Method (see video above), there are a number of signs or symptoms that can alert you to the fact that you're not breathing as efficiently as you could. This includes:
Mouth breathingUpper chest breathing
Frequent sighingNoticeable breathing during rest
Taking large breaths prior to talkingErratic breathing
Chronic rhinitis (nasal congestion and runny nose)Sleep apnea5,6,7,8
The detrimental effects of incorrect breathing,9 such as mouth breathing and overbreathing, are well-documented. Up to 50 peer-reviewed papers on the importance of breathing through your nose can be found on the Buteyko Clinic's website.10
The Importance of Nose Breathing
The Buteyko Method teaches you how to bring your breathing volume back toward normal or, in other words, to reverse what's called chronic hyperventilation or chronic overbreathing.
One of the most important aspects of proper breathing is breathing through your nose. Part of the benefits of nose breathing is related to the fact that there is nitric oxide in your nose, and when you breathe through your nose, you carry a small amount of this beneficial gas into your lungs.
Nitric oxide not only helps maintain homeostasis, or balance, within your body, it's also a bronchodilator and vasodilator, and has antibacterial properties that helps neutralize germs and bacteria.
Nose breathing also helps normalize your breath volume. This is important because when you chronically overbreathe, the heavier breathing volume that's coming into your lungs can cause a disturbance of blood gasses, including the loss of carbon dioxide (CO2).
The Hazards of Overbreathing
Contrary to popular belief, carbon dioxide is not merely a waste gas. Although you breathe to get rid of excess CO2, it's very important that your breathing volume is normal, in order to maintain a certain level of CO2 in your bloodstream.
As explained by Patrick, if you're breathing too heavily you lose carbon dioxide, which causes the smooth muscles around your airways to constrict. This creates a negative feedback loop that can lead to chronic hyperventilating and, potentially, exercise-induced asthma.11,12
While you might believe that taking deeper breaths through your mouth allows you to take more oxygen into your body, which should make you feel better, the opposite actually happens. You can test this out by taking five or six big breaths in and out of your mouth. Most people will begin to experience some light-headedness or dizziness.
This occurs because you're eliminating too much carbon dioxide from your bloodstream, which causes your blood vessels to constrict—hence the light-headedness. So, the heavier you breathe, the less oxygen that's actually delivered throughout your body due to lack of carbon dioxide, which causes your blood vessels to constrict. The loss of carbon dioxide caused by heavy breathing also reduces blood flow to your heart, which in some unfortunate cases could lead to cardiac arrest or heart attack.