The Science Behind Breathing. The Mechanism and Exercises for Better Breathing.

How to breathe correctly, on a daily basis, habitual, exercise, and cardio exercise.

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]t any one time, many of us have hundreds of different thoughts running through our minds. Even though we often have trouble keeping track of all that is expected of us. However, there is one thing that we do not have to be concerned about remembering, and that is breathing. What is the function of breathing? We will look into all of this in our article. First of all,, we need to know how we breathe.

How Do We Breathe?

When you breathe, you are transporting oxygen to the body cells to keep them working and clear your carbon dioxide system. In other words, breathing keeps the body alive. So, to understand the science behind this crucial and complicated task, the respiratory system. Like any other machinery, it consists of particular components and requires triggers to function. In this case, the triggers are structures like tissues and structures making up the lungs as well as the various other respiratory organs connected to the lungs. And to get this machine moving, we need the autonomic nervous system which is our brain’s unconscious control system for our vital functions.

The process of breathing explained illustration

As the body prepares to take in oxygen-rich air, this system sends a signal to muscles surrounding the lungs, flattening the diaphragm, and contracting the intercostal muscles between your ribs to create more space for your lungs to expand. Air gushes into your nose and mouth through the trachea and into bronchi which splits at the trachea’s base, one entering each lung. Just like tree branches, the small tubes further divide into thousands of smaller passages called bronchioles.

The lungs are similar to large balloons, but instead of being empty, they are spongy on the inside, and each end of the bronchioles is called alveolus (plural alveoli), which is covered with capillaries and contains red blood cells and the well-known hemoglobin. These sacs are inflated by the air we breathe, causing the lungs to expand. This is the location where carbon dioxide and oxygen are exchanged via diffusion because carbon dioxide is abundant in the capillaries and oxygen is abundant in the air. As oxygen diffuses in capillaries, hemoglobin takes it up and transports it to other regions of the body that need it.

Therefore, carbon dioxide is delivered to the lungs, where it is released by exhalation with the support of the autonomic nervous system, which signals the diaphragm to contract and the intercostals to relax, resulting in a smaller chest cavity. This results in the expulsion of air, and the cycle starts again. This is how these spongy organs maintain our respiratory system without our awareness.

The average breathing rate is between 15-25 times per minute providing almost 10,000 liters of air in a day. 

Age Breaths per minute
  • Birth to 1 year
  • 1–3 years
  • 3–6 years
  • 6–12 years
  • 12–18 years
  • over 18 years

Children’s respiratory rates are greater than adults’, according to a 2021 article. At the age of 2, a child’s breathing rate decreases from 44 breaths per minute to 26.

What happens When a person Doesn’t Breathe? 

Those in great health can hold their breath for roughly 30 seconds to two minutes. Brain damage is irreversible after just four minutes without oxygen, and death may occur within four to six minutes.

But it can also be improved with training and significantly reduce the discomfort if you have any lung-related disorder. Learn more about those disorders and what exercises to do in this article here.

What are the Types of Breath?  


  • Nasal Breathing. Many medical practitioners consider that humans are born with the ability to breathe via our nostrils. Because of this, the nasal passages are able to both moisten and warm the air that a human needs to breathe in.  It has many well-documented benefits, some of which are mentioned below
  1. The nose’s filtration system filters the air before it reaches the lungs.
  2. Exhaling via the nose helps in maintaining lung capacities.
  3. The generation of nitric oxide (NO) is one of the most underlying determinants for nasal respiration. It has been studied that this Nitric Oxide is essential for lowering blood pressure, maintaining homeostasis, promoting immunological defense, and facilitating neurotransmission.
  4. It has also been studied that developing a habit of inhaling via the nose might help reduce symptoms of sleep apnea. (1) (2)
  • Yet, some individuals breathe primarily via their mouths, which is known as mouth breathing. It is often audible, quicker than usual, interrupted by sighs, and may entail noticeable upper chest motions. Some individuals breathe nearly entirely through their mouths, while others may have a medical condition (such as sleep apnea) that causes them to breathe mostly through their mouths at night. Learn What sleep apnea is and what can be done to manage it in this article.

Temporary illnesses that restrict nasal passages might cause mouth breathing such as nasal congestion and altered nasal division. In this condition, individuals generally experience a runny or congested nose, which is normal. Chronic mouth inhaling may have lifetime health consequences, including stress.

30-50% of individuals breathe via their mouth, particularly in the morning. People that breathe via their mouths often have narrow features with receding chins or jaws. Signs you might be in the habit include having bad breath, dry mouth or snoring, hoarseness, tooth decay, allergies, confusion, and fatigue upon waking up. There is no one test to diagnose mouth breathing; it requires a multi-disciplinary strategy to reduce cascade effects. During a physical exam, a GP may identify mouth breathing by looking at the nostrils or nasal congestion. They may inquire about snoring, sleep, breathing difficulties, or sinus issues. If you have cavities, poor breath, or gum disease, a dentist may diagnose mouth breathing during a normal check.

Experts believe that nasal breathing has several advantages over mouth breathing. The following table summarizes the benefit of nasal over mouth breathing.

Nasal Breathing  Mouth Breathing.
  • Lungs prefer an optimum (not so cool nor warm air). This helps the air attain a comfortable body temperature, also adding moisture to it. Inhaling via the nose can achieve this.
  • Your nose’s cilia filter pollutants and particles while you breathe. They deliver them to your throat rather than your lungs.
  • Your nose may sense environmental or ingested toxins.
  • Your nasal passages provide moisture to the air you breathe in.
  • Cooler air isn’t transferred via the mouth.
  • Everything you breathe via your mouth is directed into your lungs.
  • Our mouth is less able to detect these poisons.
  • Usually, your mouth doesn’t do this, which is why some mouth breathers wake up with a dry mouth or a sore throat.

When conducting a strenuous exercise or if your nose is clogged due to congestion, a cold, or allergies, is the only time it is super necessary to inhale through your mouth. In certain cases, temporary mouth breathing might assist you to receive air to your lungs faster.

How to Breathe Correctly? 

Here’s a quick test to see whether or not you have healthy breathing habits. Start taking some slow, deep breaths, and try to relax. Do your shoulders rise and your body becomes more elongated when you take a breath in? Do your shoulders return to their starting posture and do you feel a contraction in your chest as you let out an exhale? If you answered “yes,” then you are doing something wrong.

Taking a breath may seem simple, but did you know that there is an art to it? Diaphragmatic breathing” is the medical word for what most people refer to as “belly breathing.” The American Lung Association (ALA) provides the following recommendations for proper breathing.

diaphragmatic breathing
Image source:

Inhaling via the nose improves lung function and slows breathing. This makes nitric oxide intake simpler, which helps with oxygen transfer. Also, you should incorporate the stomach as well. While inhaling, your stomach should expand, and you should also feel the expansion of your lungs. As a result, oxygen is taken deep into your lungs, filling them to capacity. As you exhale, your stomach will move closer to your spine and the gap between your ribs will become smaller. Activating the diaphragm muscle helps to ensure that you take in the correct amount of air.

When & How to Use Breathing

If you’re interested in trying out breathing exercises to relieve stress or anxiety, or to enhance lung function or to aid in sleep, these below mentioned ones. You may discover that some workouts immediately appeal to you. Begin with them to make practicing more fun.

While exercising.

Many people breathe through their mouths when they work out. This can happen if you breathe quickly, which makes your nose less adaptable and makes you breathe through your mouth instead. Nasal breathing is preferred as per 2020 scientific research. Even in 2018 research, a comparison was carried out in respiratory rate in nose vs mouth breathers. The result suggests that nasal breathing requires less effort to consume the same quantity of oxygen, which might possibly increase athletic performance and endurance.

Not only can good breathing assist the effort of the workout and help you to lift more weight with greater control, but it may also lead to hernias if it is neglected. You may also try these approaches for safe and productive exercise,

  • Running. Belly breathing is the best approach while running. It has been proven that it is better to utilize the whole abdomen region for oxygen, not just the upper chest alone. Air provides fuel for the body’s aerobic system, which is used during cardiovascular activity, so you’ll have more energy to complete.
  • High-intensity Workouts. Such exercises can make one breathless very easily, so we prefer fast and big mouth breathing in this too. But this can reduce the blood carbon dioxide levels, restricting oxygen delivery to cells. So nasal breathing is the best approach while doing HIITs. If you get too out of breath and begin to lose your form, you should slow down until you can restart.
  • Strength/ Muscle Training. Fortunately, there is a simple method known as rhythmic breathing. Consider the bicep curl as an explanation. As you curl the weights, exhale as you lift them, then inhale as you drop them. Inhale as you lower yourself to the floor and exhale as you force yourself back up for a push-up. Maintaining awareness of your breathing might even assist you to avoid lifting weights that are too heavy for you. This technique was also mentioned in Dr. Andrew Huberman’s Podcast with Dr. Andy Galpin who is a Professor of Kinesiology at California State University.
  • Abdominal Exercises/ Planks. It can also be the best core workout. Exhaling deeply and completely delivers new oxygen to functioning muscles quicker. When you add deep breathing to core exercise, you’ll enhance lung function and boost intensity.
Meditationbreathing for meditation

There are several breathing methods for meditation with various origins. You may try them all and select your favorite, or mix them into one session. Meditation helps rid the mind of unwanted ideas, reduces stress, and improves health. Here are some popular breathing techniques:

  • Breathing by itself. With the Buddhist origin, Shamata denotes mental calmness. It focuses on respiring and frequently bringing you back to the present and reminding you that you’re alive. This practice may increase sustained attention and slow cognitive decline according to research. Listen to your breath as you gaze at anything. You should feel how your lungs fill and your stomach rises with each inhale and exhale. You may visualize your breath as a rhythm.
  • Alternate Yoga Breathing (ANYB). It focuses on regulated respiration and physical equilibrium. Inhaling through one nostril while shutting the other creates a rhythm of alternating breathing and airflow. This meditation breathing method when performed for 18 minutes may lower blood pressure and boost attention. With your mouth covered, close the right nostril and breathe in through the left. Then alternate by closing the left nostril and breathing in through the right. Repeat 5-10 times for each nostril. 15-18 minutes of alternate-nose breathing is good.
To Boost Concentration

One can try box breathing to reduce stress or improve their ability to focus. Also called square respiration, it is a way to slow down the respiratory system. Studies reveal that box breathing may have the potential to alter future stress responses. To do this, one should sit straight on a comfy chair for optimal results while resting the hands palm-up in the lap or on the knees might aid in maintaining a calm upper body. Then one must follow the given sequence,

  • Inhale via the nose for four counts, filling the lungs.
  • Hold the breath in the lung for four counts.
  • breathe out gently through the lips for four counts,
  • Repeat 4 counts again and repeat this.
When Hyperventilating/Stressed

As a quick and effective treatment for hyperventilation, you might attempt the following techniques:

  • Inhale via the nose as slowly, deeply, and softly as possible.
  • Slowly, deeply, and softly exhale via the mouth.
  • Some individuals find it beneficial to count from one to five on each inhale and exhale.
  • Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing.

Breathing through pursed lips is also preferred with holding breath for 15-20 seconds at a time.

Individuals who suffer from stress may want to give lion breathing a try. This practice combines facial stretches with deep breathing to ease stress and tension. Deep exhalation helps relax the muscles. It has been studied to have a good effect on emotional expression, social involvement, and physical performance. To accomplish lion breathing, an individual must:

  • Deeply inhale via the nose
  • Exhale strongly with the mouth wide open and the tongue protruding.
  • Raise the eyes up while exhaling to stretch the face.

Another method that can be utilized is Resonant breathing which is 5 complete breaths per minute. Breathing at this pace optimizes HRV, decreases stress, and helps alleviate depressive symptoms when paired with Iyengar yoga according to 2017 research. To perform this, Inhale for five counts, then exhale for five counts, and continue this practice for few minutes until relaxed.

For Sleeping

When a person is trying to go to sleep, focusing on their breath and counting their breaths might help distract them from tension or anxiety. Breathing becomes more regular and the body relaxes as a result of this approach. A very interesting method is used for inducing sleep which is known as the 4-7-8 method. Before heading to bed, try this relaxation technique to help calm an overactive mind.

Before beginning this exercise, individuals should place the tip of their tongue on the roof of their mouth, relax their muscles, and exhale completely through the mouth. Breathe in via the nostrils for a count of 4, While holding the breath count for 7, and then opening lips and exhaling with counting of 8. The 4-7-8 breathing may be performed anywhere, except when driving or doing else requiring complete focus.

To Connect Deeply to your Body

It is a very unique technique to gaining control over your body, breath, and mind via the use of particular breathing methods and tolerance to harsh temperatures. The objective of the Wim Hof Method breathing method is to teach you how to get control of your neural, immunological, and cardiovascular systems in order to become happier, stronger, and healthier. It has the following steps,

  • Step 1. Sit or lie down in a meditation position that is most comfortable for you. Inhale and exhale normally, experiencing no pressure in your chest or lungs.
  • Step 2. Try to de-clutter your thoughts by closing your eyes and relaxing your body. Be aware of your breath, and strive to connect with it completely. Inhale through the abdomen and chest, then exhale naturally. 30 to 40 strong repetitions. You may suffer dizziness as well as tingling in your toes and fingers but this is totally non-dangerous.
  • Step 3. The last inhalation should be as deep as possible. Then exhale all of the air you’ve been holding in. Hold your breath until you feel the need to do so.
  • Step 4. Fill your lungs with a large inhale once you feel the need to inhale again. Feel your rib cage and stomach swell. You should hold your breath for around 15 seconds, then release it.
Round one is now concluded. It is possible to continue this cycle 3-4 times without interruption. After completing the breathing exercise, take moment to enjoy the feeling of relaxation. 
BENEFITS: By doing the Win Hoff method, you release more energy, influence your neural system, and alter a variety of physiological reactions. The following results were obtained from research that was carried out on this technique,
  • Beneficial at high altitudes. Those acclimatizing to high altitude surroundings may benefit from the Wim Hof Method according to research.
  • Can control nervous system. The research done demonstrated that individuals may learn to exert control over their autonomic nervous system.
  • Improves athletic performance. 2020 research indicated that a single session of Wim Hof breathing increased cycling performance by boosting VO2 max and lowering strain.
  • Better immune response. 2019 research tested an 8-week Wim Hof Method course on people with axial spondylarthritis. Certain inflammatory indicators were reduced in the Wim Hof Method group compared to the control group.

PRECAUTIONS: There are many ongoing research and despite that, there are possible risks and contraindications associated with the Wim Hof Method. The Wim Hof Method is not advised for anyone with a history of:

  • Respiratory issues such as asthma.
  • Seizures.
  • Blood pressure variations.
  • Pregnancy.

Breathing is among the most important bodily processes. Normal breathing should be accomplished via the nose since this has been well-established. Follow the right method to breathe and if you have any respiratory disorders, please refer to this article here for some special breathing exercises. People who are interested in breathing methods but are skeptical of their abilities to self-regulate may benefit from using an app. Apple’s and Google’s app stores provide a variety of applications for different devices. But it should always be considered that you should never substitute breathing methods for medical treatment. These exercises are most effective when combined with other therapies.

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Dr Aimen

Being a Doctor by profession, Aimen is passionate about helping people get better health in their lives. Aimen enjoys her research on Prime With Time subjects and strives to create better awareness of the problems and changes related to women's health.
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