Watch TV or a movie and count the number of people breathing through their mouth rather than their nose. Why does it matter? There are four very good reasons for breathing through your nose.
Who Breathes Through Their Mouth All The Time?
Other than two birds, no animal breathes through it's mouth and neither should humans including athletes. Watch Kenyan and Nigerian elite marathon runners. Most all of them breathe through their nose for an entire marathon. Often they are top 10 finishers.
There are four good reasons to breathe through your nose and not your mouth. The nose does a lot of important work preparing the air for our fussy lungs, making the air just right for optimal use in the body. Let's take a look at each of these.
Reason #1: The Nose Brings In The Right Amount of Air
Stand in front of a mirror and open your mouth. Notice the difference in the size of the mouth and a nostril. The mouth is two to four times larger than a nostril. The nostril is designed as a control valve allowing the right amount of air in with every breath. Breathing through the mouth brings in more air than needed, which can be harmful to your health; more on this in another article.
Reason #2: The Nose Warms The Air
Once air enters the nose, 3 pairs of "flaps" known as turbinates begin swirling the air around. The swirling action brings air in contact with the warm skin inside the nose warming the air to body temperature, the temperature preferred by the lungs. Air entering through the mouth is not swirled resulting in cooler air entering the lungs.
I often hear cross-country skiers talk about how their lungs spasm or tighten up in cold weather. In most cases, these folks are breathing through the mouth and the air is not being warmed properly. They are amazed at how much better they feel when they breathe through their nose.
Reason #3: The Nose Cleans The Air
Let's face it, the air we breathe is not as pure as we or our lungs would like. Part of the nose's job is to clean the air before it heads down the windpipe and into the lungs. Lungs really don't care for dirt and pollution.
Hair and mucus (snot) in the nose work to filter out 98% of the bad stuff in the air; dust, pollen, smoke, pollution, etc. When we breathe through our mouth, the bad stuff gets a free pass directly into the lungs.
Reason #4: The Nose Humidifies The Air
Where I live in the high desert of Central Oregon, air humidity is normally 10% - 15% during the summer. I can assure you, lungs do not care for dry air.
The nose's job is to add moisture to the air we breathe ensuring it's perfectly humidified for our fussy lungs. The nose will use as much as a quart and a half of water every day humidifying air. Very little air humidification happens when we breathe through the mouth.
Often in the movies, the bad guy or the town fool is seen breathing through his or her mouth. It makes them look badder or more the fool. It also makes their lungs unhappy. Breathing through our nose not only makes us look smarter, it makes us healthier.
And athletes, let's breathe through our noses as well just like the cheetah chasing it's prey at top speed across the Serengeti.
Ask someone to watch and check your breathing. Give them permission to tell you when you're breathing through your mouth. It's time to put your nose to good use.