Um.. okay. Right now you’re thinking “I already am breathing- that’s how I’m staying alive, dumb dumb.” Ok, I get it. We’re all breathing. However, I just found a study that emphasizes what we all already knew was good for us- the importance of breathing.
So what’s the deal then? Well, in this study breathing was found to modulate brain activity and mental function! What exactly does that mean? Well basically, according to this article by the Guardian, “The rhythm of breathing co-ordinates electrical activity across a network of brain regions associated with smell, memory, and emotions, and can enhance their functioning, according to a new study by researchers at Northwestern University. ”
Interestingly enough, breathing controls emotional recognition and memory recall, and this effect is seen more accurately during breathing IN than breathing out. Oh, and the “mode of delivery” is also important here- breathing through the nose showed these effects whereas when the participants in the study breathed through their mouths, their performance on both tasks declined markedly. So what does this tell us? Well, breathing is unconsciously controlled by the brainstem (the good ‘ol brain stem), and our breathing changes in response to emotional stimuli and mental effort, this suggests that our thought processes affect our breathing rate (which, we all knew anyways- I mean, who doesn’t notice the quickening of breath when we are mad or scared?).
This study is so important because it suggests that breathing can impact how well our brains work and our mental function. If breathing has some kind of effect on brain activity, it would make sense that by breathing fast when you’re scared or in a highly dangerous fight-for-your-life situation, this can optimise information processing in the brain so you can think and act appropriately and quickly. Put simply, breathing fast= more air. More air= a better working brain. This makes me think of running; when you run, you breathe faster so your muscles get more oxygen to meet the increased energy needs. This makes intuitive sense that the same would apply to your brain- a more strenuous task or situation (such as fight-or-flight) would require more oxygen to work better. As the article states, “When you breathe in… you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus,” says Zelano. “In a panic state, your breathing rhythm becomes faster [and] as a result you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling,” [This] could have a positive impact on brain function and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”
Anyways, what I got from this was 1) Breathe through your nose damn it! and 2) breathe- it will keep you alive girlfriend.
Link to original study:
Zelano, C., et al. (2016). Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function. J. Neurosci., 6: 12448 –12467 [Abstract]