Do you remember growing up and having your parents drill into you proper manners? I’m talking specifically ones that had to do with your mouth. You know what I mean?
‘Chew your food with your mouth closed’
‘Don’t smack your gum’
‘Close your mouth’
And besides helping me develop proper manners and etiquette so I won’t be a social outcast this also helped me with my sports performance. So thanks mom & dad!
But how exactly does chewing with your mouth closed help with sports performance? Well honestly it has nothing to do with the nutrition and more to do with how we take in oxygen and expire carbon dioxide. I’ve got to give credit to Mr. Sherwin, my high school science teacher, for teaching me some of the following.
Below are 4 benefits of nose versus mouth breathing.
Benefit #1 – Nasal air is warmed and humidified
When you consider the location and properties of our lungs we know they are in the chest cavity and moist to facilitate inflation, deflation and gas exchange. The more similar the air we breath in is to this environment the better. For example, air taken in through the mouth needs to warmed and moistened before arriving at the lungs.
***I remember when going to university in Regina riding my bike in the middle of winter. In -35 C weather I learned that although you may be tempted to ride quickly to get out of the cold weather more quickly this caused me to breath through my mouth and typically was followed by a sore throat or chest cold. It was a better strategy to bike more slowly and keep my mouth closed. This allowed me take air in through my nose only and ensure the air was warmed before reaching my lungs.***
Benefit #2 – Nasal air is filtered
Are you concerned with air quality? Are you aware of all the pollutants floating around in the air you breath at home, work or school? And I’m not even talking about people upstairs from your work that smoke cigarettes right out the front door of our gym. Yeah that happens on a daily basis.
Anyways, the nose has small hairs in it called cilia which help to filter out dust, pollutants and other air borne particles to clean this air before it makes its way to our lungs.
Benefit #3 – A dose of nitric oxide
Not to be confused with nitrous dioxide (N2O), nitric oxide (NO) is made by the nose and serves a number of functions. NO helps to lower blood pressure, helps increase the oxygen carrying capacity of our blood and also kills bacteria, viruses and germs.
So NO helps us be more efficient in our transfer of oxygen and helps keep us healthy. This same benefit is not provided when we breath through our mouth.
Benefit #4 – Calmer breathing
Breathing through our mouth is associated with chest breathing and stress (sympathetic). For example, think of a dog or animal that is about to attack. It bares its teeth and breaths through its mouth. And you can see the chest and shoulders rise and fall which each breath.
Or picture the athlete who has just won the 800 m at the Olympics. This is a painful event involving high levels of stress. Upon crossing the finish line some athletes may collapse to the ground, eyes closed, pained expressions on their faces and breathing rapidly through their mouths.
Contrast this with breathing through the nose which is calmer, less thoracic and more diaphragmatic, and helps restore a state of parasympathetic stress.
As you continue on with your training and day to day activities pay attention to how you breath. Is it nasal or oral? When does it change? If you play hockey or ringette a mouth guard is a great way to practice breathing through the nose as the lips are kept sealed around the mouth guard.
And if you’re a decent athlete with good manners make sure to thank your mom & dad.