By- PAUL ROBERTS OF Tribal MSP
Everyone knows how to breathe, right? After all, not being able to breathe tends to have immediate and permanent results so it can be something most of us take for granted, unless we have a condition such as asthma.
But breathing can be something many of us don’t use to our full ability or ever consider as something that we can develop. Commonly, we take shallow stress inducing breaths, we breathe through our mouths and we spend time working out in polluted atmospheres, meaning we are taking in great gulps of fume-filled air and negatively affecting the level of toxins within our body, our posture, our tension and affecting our autonomic nervous system balance, critical to on-going health and performance.
When you breathe through your nose, your nostrils work to filter, warm, moisturise, de-humidify and smell the air. Because you don’t exhale the air so quickly when you breathe out through your nose, you also give your lungs more time to extract the oxygen – and a greater flow of oxygen is good news for your body.
Mouth Breathing, Snoring and Tooth Decay
In addition, if you breathe through your nose most of time when you are awake, then that habit will translate to when you are less conscious too, breathing through your nose when asleep means less chance of snoring – which is obviously going to make you more popular with your partner.
Snoring is also a risk factor for sleep apnoea (when you have one or more pauses in breathing or shallow breaths whilst you sleep). The pauses last from a few seconds to minutes and they mean that you don’t get good quality restful deep sleep, the impact upon your recovery will be huge.
Mouth breathing also has consequences on oral health – it reduces the flow of saliva and dries out your mouth, which makes for more bacteria-friendly opportunities in your mouth that can make you more prone to dental cavities and gum disease, if you are regularly consuming sugary sports drinks too, the so called healthy endurance sport you have chosen may well be promoting tooth decay.
Nitric Oxide Production
Nose breathing has another advantage because it produces nitric oxide (made by your nose and sinus mucous membranes) that is good for a number of reasons. Another Nitric Oxide boost comes in the form of humming (1) - no coincidence that both nose breathing and humming are both used regularly in yoga- a parasympathetic, stress reducing activity.
It expands the blood vessels, increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure; and minimises the risk of plaque build up and blood clotting- all around brilliance for heart health. For the fellas and their partners; sexual function depends on the release of nitric oxide. Viagra and other drugs like it that reduce erectile dysfunction work on the next step of the nitric oxide pathway.
Are impotence and atherosclerosis closely related? Absolutely. Any lifestyle no-no that decreases nitric oxide, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high levels of very low-density lipoproteins, cause both problems.
Conversely, as an endurance athlete, the chances are that you are breathing through your mouth a lot. Endurance exercise encourages most of us to do this – over-breathing thanks to hyperventilating through exercise is dangerous because it causes your body’s levels of carbon dioxide to drop, reducing blood flow to your heart and increasing your risk for cardiac dysrhythmia, where the heart beat is irregular or is faster or slower than normal.
How well do you Breathe??
So if your goal is to be fit and healthy (and breathing for a long, long time), what can you do about this, apart from giving up on triathlon and other endurance events? Here is where the practice of breathing efficiently can help.
Originally developed to help asthmatics, the Buteyko breathing method can help you develop healthy deeper breathing patterns, which help to maintain the right ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood stream.
How is your breathing? How is your health? Check for yourself
Take the Control Pause Breathing Test
Professor Buteyko developed a test to measure your depth of breathing and consequent retention of carbon dioxide, resultant oxygenation and health. He named it the "Control Pause" breathing test. This acts as a natural peak flow meter and is far more useful.
CONTROL PAUSE test You can try this for yourself - find a clock or stop watch then -
1 .........Sitting down, close your mouth and breathe normally in and out through the nose for 2/3 minutes.
2 ..........After a normal out breath, gently close your nose with thumb and forefinger, glance at a a clock face or time with a stop watch.
3 ..........When you feel the FIRST need to breathe, release the nose and take a breath in through the nose. remembering to keep the mouth closed at this point.
4...........Note the number of seconds that have passed before breathing in.
The number of seconds that has passed is your Control Pause.
If you managed less than 10 seconds .....you have health problems
less than 25 seconds..... your health needs attention
.........................................30-40 is satisfactory
.........................................60+ seconds is excellent
Whatever your result, why not work on the skill of breathing- In order to breathe properly you need to breathe deeply into your abdomen not just your chest. Even in the old Greek and Roman times the doctors recommended deep breathing, the voluntary holding of air in the lungs, believing that this exercise cleansed the system of impurities and gave strength.
This certainly is of great value to you in the frantic 21st century. Breathing exercises should be deep, slow, rhythmic, and through the nose, not through the mouth. The most important parts of deep breathing are the regulating your breaths three to four seconds in, and three to four seconds out.
1. Inhale through your nose, expanding your belly, then fill your chest. Counting to 5
2. Hold and Count to 3. Feel all your cells filled with healing and balancing energy.
3. Exhale fully through your nose and feel all your cells releasing waste and emptying all old energy. Counting to 5.
As with many practices we encourage at Tribal- this can be incorporated into your day, try it right now!! The positive impacts upon your performance include better body composition, increased energy and stamina and an overall improvement in wellbeing, all of which allow for a more resilient you.
Since including nose breathing myself and including it in my athletes programs it has been evident that breathing mechanics are a skill that can be practiced and acquired, over time, my athletes and I have developed the ability to remain relaxed during nose breathing.
Warm ups and cool downs, easier zone 1 and 2 sessions and easy/aerobic blocks at the end of interval sets are prescribed as nose breathing efforts.
Obviously, learning to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth when exercising is something that will not come naturally to most of us – so it will take practice and persistence. You could start by purposefully nose breathing at rest, progress to walking and then gradually add speed until you are comfortably nose breathing whilst holding higher exercise intensities. The key here is, start slowly, pay attention to your body and do not push yourself if you are finding it difficult.
Have you ever tried nose-breathing during exercise? We’d love to hear from you… Tell us how you found it and if you have experienced the benefits.
(1) Humming greatly increases nasal nitric oxide.