Why nose-breathing is important for your health (not just your image)

By Alive & Well


My American friends have a great expression that goes something along the lines of “he’s such a mouth breather.”

Credit: Brendan AdamsonIt’s supposed to be vaguely insulting (or perhaps even overtly insulting), apparently because leaving your jaw hanging open makes you look dopey.

I understand what they mean when I see my children watching TV with their mouths ajar. They do look a bit dopey. But the reason I care is because it’s not good for their health.

My friends at HANDLE taught me why. They’ve written a comprehensive article about it but the key concepts are that if we breathe through our noses …

  • we filter out heaps of dust and germs, via our nose hairs, before they have a chance to enter our bodies and clog things up or create disease
  • the air gets nicely heated and humidified as it passes into our bodies, making it less shocking to our systems
  • we extract more oxygen from the air, which is great for our bodies – basically because our noses inhale air slower than our mouths do, giving our lungs more chance to extract the oxygen as we exhale

Plus – and this was news to me – it minimises build-up of lactic acid. The article cites two resources (John Douillard’s Body, Mind and Sport, and research by Dr Buteyko) that show that, during high intensity endurance races, athletes who breathe through their noses have lower heart rates and recover more quickly. That’s because they don’t produce as much lactic acid as their mouth-breathing counterparts.

Could you run a marathon with your mouth closed?

I know if I go for a jog, I huff and puff very quickly through my mouth. No doubt about it. You?

Next time you’re out running, let your nose set the pace and see if you gain strength and endurance more quickly. You might need to take a tissue with you, or wear a t-shirt that you’re happy to use to wipe the gunk away (sorry, too much information?!).

The fact is that we come into the world breathing through our noses – it’s the way we’re supposed to do it. Mouth breathing is learnt later, and it’s strongly associated with snoring and sleep apnoea. The only time it’s useful is during an emergency when you need to get large quantities of air into your lungs quickly, like when you’re running from a tiger or something. Which I get a lot.

But wait, there’s more!

Nose-breathing can also help you save on dental costs. How, you say? When you breathe through your nose, your mouth is closed and your tongue sits gently on the roof of your mouth, just behind the upper teeth. That little bit of pressure exerted over a lifetime allows the palate of the mouth to open up and flatten, allowing space for all your adult teeth to come through straight.

So as well as having better oxygen exchange in your body, recovering more quickly from exercise, keeping extra germs at bay and not looking like a dolt, you’re very likely to avoid braces. Hooray for that!

Are you a mouth-breather? What about your kids? Have you tried to nose-breathe? What stops you? How have you been able to change your habits?