We all want to strengthen our immunity during the coronavirus pandemic—and while diet and exercise are a big part of that, there is another thing you can do to bolster your defense: nasal breathing.
According to human performance specialist and breathing expert, Brian Mackenzie, how we breathe is an integral part of strengthening our immunity. “[The nose] is the first line of defense for the immune system,” he says. That’s not to say you should ignore proper guidelines in place to help protect you from bacteria and viruses (like wearing a mask, for instance), but the nose does have its own way of keeping you healthy.
Consider nasal breathing an extra layer of immune support—it can’t work entirely on its own, but there certainly are some perks to keep in mind. The folks at mindbodygreen recently explored the in’s and out’s of nasal breathing, which you can read about below.
How is nasal breathing connected to your immune system? Our nasal passages are able to filter bacteria and viruses in the air. We have little hair follicles in our nose (in fact, we have as many hair follicles inside our nose as we do on our head, according to Mackenzie) that are able to filter the air as you inhale, which can block dust and bacteria from reaching your lungs. Our mouths, on the other hand, don’t have the same knack for filtering out particles.
Another reason our noses are linked to immunity? The mucus itself: On every single hair in our noses, there’s a mucus coating. And according to Mackenzie, “mucus is the honey badger of our immune system.” That’s because it instantaneously launches defense immune cells (TH1 and TH2, to be more specific) whenever it detects bacteria or viruses.
Apparently, our snot has some pretty protective effects; that’s why “a lot of people who are mouth breathers can get colds quite frequently,” Mackenzie says. “With nasal breathing, the immune system completely changes.”
How do you become a better nose breather? While you can breathe out of your mouth occasionally, Mackenzie notes at least 80% of your day should be through your nose only. How do you reach that 80%? No need to do the math: Simply be more aware to shut your mouth throughout the day, he says—especially while exercising, when we typically huff and puff through our mouths.
Perhaps try to keep your mouth closed through an entire yoga class; notice when you feel the urge to open up and try to strengthen your nasal breathing by pushing through it. Even if you’re not exercising, make it a habit to routinely think to yourself: Do I actually need to breathe through my mouth right now? It might feel unnatural at first, but pretty soon you’ll re-teach yourself to become a strong nasal breather, and strengthen your immune system, to boot.
Last month, we wrote a story that discusses breathing exercises that boost resilience. You can find that here.