The importance of nasal breathing during exercise (and why it keeps you going so much longer)
May 4th, 2022,
6 min read
Running, cycling, swimming… Many people tend to breathe through their mouth during physical exercise. This way you absorb more oxygen, right? But nothing is further from the truth. Thanks to nasal breathing you can last much longer. Here’s why.
It is best to breathe through your nose as much as possible. That applies to everyone. It is often said that ‘the mouth is for eating, the nose for breathing’. Why is this the case?
Your nose provides many health benefits over breathing through your mouth. Which benefits? For starters, breathing through your nose ensures that the right amount of air, at the right speed and under the right conditions, reaches your lungs. Your nose acts as a filter for the air you breathe, and it warms and moisturizes the air. This way you create the ideal conditions for your lungs to properly do their job.
‘The mouth is for eating, the nose for breathing’
In addition, nasal breathing stimulates a healthy, calm way of breathing: abdominal breathing. A breath that is calm and goes to your belly signals your nervous system that everything is safe and fine. It makes you calm(er). It stimulates your vagus nerve, the main parasympathetic (relaxation) nerve in your body, which is responsible for rest and recovery of your system. A slower breath also means a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure and less muscle tension, in short: less stress in your body. (Rapid) mouth breathing, on the other hand, induces a stress response in your body.
Another benefit of breathing through your nose is that you are taking in nitric oxide (NO), a gas produced in your nose. And that’s something you want.
Nitric oxide helps keep your arteries healthy. It widens blood vessels, so blood pressure can be lowered locally. Thus, it ensures that the airways and blood vessels in your lungs can relax and widen, resulting in more efficient gas exchange in the alveoli. This also promotes blood circulation throughout your body, reducing your heart's workload and allowing more oxygen-rich blood to reach your cells.
In addition, NO also acts as a weapon against all kinds of viruses and infections. It improves your immune system, due to its anti-fungal, antiviral and antibacterial effect. In addition, NO ensures stronger muscles and faster muscle recovery, which is of course a great advantage during physical exercise. It is therefore important to take in enough NO, and this is only possible if you breathe through your nose. Mouth breathing simply does not give you all of these benefits.
Why should you continue to breathe through your nose while exercising? Is that even possible? Won't you get a great hunger for air? Will you be getting enough oxygen? Although you may think it is illogical or even impossible, breathing through your nose is a very good idea during exercise. Why?
It all has to do with the gas exchange between oxygen and CO2 (carbon dioxide) in your body. You always want to have it in optimal balance, but certainly during physical exercise. The purpose of breathing is to stay alive, by carrying as much oxygen as possible to your cells. This way, your body gets the nutrition it needs to allow all processes to run smoothly.
Simply put, we breathe in oxygen and exhale CO2. CO2 is released during combustion in your cells, which is why it is often seen as a waste product that has no further function. Nothing could be further from the truth, CO2 plays a very important role in your body. It ensures that the oxygen present in your blood can actually be delivered to the cells.
When you breathe too quickly or shallowly through your mouth - which often happens during physical exercise - you lose too much CO2. Consequently, the level of carbon dioxide in your blood becomes too low to be able to deliver enough oxygen to your cells, muscles and organs. Oxygen that your body needs so badly, because you are burning extra when you exercise.
When you can maintain the right balance between CO2 and oxygen in your body during exercise, your cells and muscles get enough fuel, and you can last longer. Nasal breathing is the way. You always want to breathe through your nose as much as possible, although this is something you must (and want to! and can!) train.
At the moment, you may get a stuffy feeling of breathlessness if you start to breathe more through your nose while walking, exercising, or climbing stairs. You might think that this is due to your physical condition, but in nine out of ten cases this is not the cause. It usually depends on the CO2 level in your blood and how sensitive you are to it. And this, in turn, has everything to do with the way you breathe.
CO2 is responsible for the 'breathing stimulus', the feeling in your body that you 'have’ to breathe. When the CO2 level in your blood lowers, your body automatically signals that it needs a breath. Note: it feels the need to breathe, it doesn’t necessarily need more oxygen. There is always enough oxygen in your blood (unless you have a condition or are in an extreme emergency). You don't have to breathe more to get oxygen, although many people think you do.
When you practice rapid mouth breathing (during exercise) - you lose too much CO2 and your body does not absorb oxygen properly. By training your breathing so that it is calmer and more controlled during exercise, you can ensure that your body can absorb all the oxygen it needs. This also prevents your heart rate from rising too quickly. This way you can last a lot longer, without getting out of breath. Precisely by breathing less (and not more)!
Your body will have to get used to a different, healthier way of breathing. Training is essential. How can you do this?
First, by daily doing slow breathing exercises, through your nose. Moonbird is specially created to guide you through slow breathing exercises. By breathing in a calm manner every day, you train your CO2 tolerance, and you are in general less likely to feel the need to breathe more - as you’ll breathe calmer. This way, you develop healthier breathing habits in a sustainable way with all the health benefits that come with it, such as less stress and anxiety, better sleep, a fitter body and faster recovery.
Second, by breathing through your nose during exercise, as much as possible. This will take some getting used to, especially in the beginning. You may think you will never succeed. But hang in there, it really is something you can train. With regular training, you will notice that you will get better and better, that your endurance is improving and that you will also feel much fitter and stronger. During exercise, but also afterward.
Hopefully, we've given you enough reasons to breathe slowly and through your nose during exercise - and actually at all moments during your day. Do you want to improve your health on a daily basis? Then see what breathing with moonbird can do for you.
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