In our book, OS Performance, and in our Performance Workshop, Chip Morton, Mark Shropshire and I talk about the athletic performance enhancing effects of breathing. Though the book is aimed at strength coaches and professional trainers, we are all athletes because we all have bodies. Therefore all of us can benefit from improving and enhancing our performance (our lives) from simply engaging in how we are designed to breathe.
Believe it or not, you were born a nasal breather. In fact, for the first three months of your life every breath you took was likely through your nose (minus any crying breaths). The average infant takes in 30 to 60 breaths per minute. That’s quite a variance, so let’s imagine that you took 45 breaths per minute as a child. That would come out to about 6 million nasal breaths in the first three months of your life. Not only were you born a nasal breather, but you became very good at it.
And with that skill of nasal breathing, you built a ridiculously strong and able body. But don’t just think strength in terms of muscles; think strength in terms of health and resiliency. That’s right, nasal breathing makes you resilient.
Check out some of the life enhancing benefits of nasal breathing:
1) It strengthens your inner core and stabilizes your spine. The nasal passages are a bit small. Being able to pull air through those small passages into your lungs takes strength. It also develops strength. Imagine the strength the diaphragm must build to expand the belly and fill up the lungs from the bottom to the top with each of those 6 million breaths in the first three months of your life. Now add another 6 million on top of that for the next three months of your life. The point is, breathing through your nose strengthens your diaphragm and stabilizes your spine, preparing your body for exciting adventures requiring strength and power. This benefit is not lost on the youth by the way. Breathing through your nasal passages can restore the strength of your center today and allow you to “get back into the game.”
2) Nasal breathing can be the “switch” between fight or flight mode and rest and digest mode. Or, it can be the key to removing stress and anxiety allowing you to sleep well and digest your food well. Mouth breathers tend not to use their diaphragms properly. As a result, they live in “Alarm” mode. This can result in several adverse health effects (diseases). Nasal breathers are more chill and relaxed. They are better able to handle stress and they have less health issues.
3) Nasal breathing can help keep or restore optimal posture. One of the hazards of living in “Alarm” mode is tight neck and shoulder muscles. One of the common issues of mouth breathers is forward head carriage (the head is not over the shoulders but hangs in front of the body). Nasal breathing can help restore posture by relieving the tension of the neck and shoulders and helping the head return to its “home” position, in-line over the shoulders. Yes, something as simple as keeping your mouth closed can optimize your posture!
4) Nasal breathing increases the amount of Nitric Oxide (NO) in your body. This in itself could be the NEON sign that screams we were designed to breathe through our noses. Here are a few benefits of Nitric Oxide:
– It is a vasodilator. It improves circulation; blood flow to your tissues. More blood blow means more oxygen and nutrients, which means more health.
– NO reduces inflammation in the body. Inflammation can lead to health issues and pain. Lack of inflammation can be crucial to having a body that feels good.
– NO boost the immune system which keeps you resilient.
– NO aids in the plasticity of the brain and nervous system. It keeps the brain healthy by not only supplying more blood flow through those healthy dilated arteries, but it also allows the brain to grow and change by building new neural connections and then keeping them nourished through myelination.
5) And the last benefit to nasal breathing is that it helps utilize and optimize your sense of smell. It’s hard to smell very well if you’re a mouth breather. Yes, there may be smells you don’t want to smell, but the sense of smell is a life enhancing sense with many benefits in itself. For one thing, smell can save your life. Being able to detect toxic threats via smell is a gift. Another terrific reason to smell is it enhances the way food taste. Your ability to smell it attached to your ability to taste. And taste is another gift that should not be cheated.
It’s no surprise, but we have noses for a reason. We were meant to use them. Nasal breathing, as silly as it sounds, can be the key to restoring the body’s strength, health and youth. So yes, nasal breathing can indeed enhance athletic performance, but to be honest, athletic performance is just another way of saying life function. We are all athletes. We can all benefit from optimally functioning so we can enjoy life to its fullest.
If you don’t practice it, it could be time to stop and smell the roses. But just know it could be a challenge at first. It could take you another 6 million breaths to become an expert again, but you can do it. You may also have restrictions, but explore anyway. You may find those melt away like other issues do when we learn how to press reset. Be curious and deliberately practice breathing through your nose.
Optimize your athletic performance,. It’s worth it.
If you’d like to dive a little deeper on this or learn more, we highly recommend checking out the OS Performance Book or joining us at one of our OS Performance Workshops. We’ve actually got our first OS Performance workshop of the year scheduled for this week at OS Institute in North Carolina! Learn more here.