On my daily walks, I cannot fail but be impressed by the number runners of all ages and levels of fitness that now populate the park. It may be my imagination, but it seems as though more people have taken up running since Covid-19  arrived on the scene.

Apart from running technique (more on this in another blog), I notice their breathing as they plod/shuffle or soar past maintaining (mostly) social distance. So, is there a correct way to breathe and why does it matter?

How you breathe affects every area of your physical and mental wellbeing. Whether it is premature ageing, dodgy digestion, weight gain, disturbed sleep, anxiety or reduced athletic performance, poor breathing is usually a factor. If you suffer from asthma,  hay fever or brain fog, these improve or are alleviated by improving the functionality of your breathing.

Respiratory Biochemistry

Breathing affects the biochemistry of your blood, because the level of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide are effected by how you breathe.

Correct breathing therefore can address imbalances in your blood biochemistry allowing you to make the most of the carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Mechanics of breathing.

Inhaling (inspiration) and exhaling (expiration) are part of the complex process of respiration, which includes four steps:-

For the purposes of this blog I am only going to describe ventilation.


The space between the lungs and inner thoracic wall (pleural space) is filled with fluid (pleural fluid) forming a seal which holds the lungs against the thoracic wall by force of surface tension. This seal ensures the lungs undergo expansion or reduction as the thoracic cavity expands or reduces.

In accordance with Boyle’s Law:

During quiet inspiration, contraction of the diaphragm and external intercostal muscles result in an increase in thoracic cavity volume and lung volume. As per Boyle’s law, the pressure in the lungs decreases and is now lower than the environment external to the lungs, meaning air flows into the lungs.

During passive expiration, the diaphragm and external intercostal muscles relax, reducing the volume of the thoracic cavity and increasing the pressure inside the lungs. The pressure within the lungs is now higher than in the external environment and air is expelled from the lungs. Lung tissue is elastic and this allows the lungs to return to their original size.

Inspiration and expiration can be active processes by involving more accessory muscles.

Active Inspiration involves the contraction of

All act to increase the volume of the thoracic cavity.

Active Expiration results from the contraction of several thoracic and abdominal muscles to decrease the volume of the thoracic cavity.

Why Nose Breathing Matters

A big breath is not the same as a deep breath. Taking big breaths through your mouth results in too much air being taken in, most often into the upper chest. This hyperventilation and leads to lower oxygen levels in your blood.

Breathing through your nose is the foundation of healthy breathing:

Nose Breathing & Exercise

When the going gets tough it can be tempting to switch to mouth breathing , but if the above holds true, then it would be logical to conclude nose breathing would increase breathing efficiency even when running.

As air hunger increases you’ll find yourself switching a to mouth breathing, but if you are patient, practice continuously and gradually increase the length of time you can sustain nasal breathing you’ll be rewarded with better performance and recovery.

Breathing in and out of your nose during exercise also helps you maintain a lower your heart rate.

Breathing Exercises

Regular practice of breath work has the power to improve blood biochemistry and the biomechanics of breathing to:

Slow Breathing

Slowing down your breathing reduces hyperventilation and activates your parasympathetic nervous system, calming your mind.

Slow Breathing with Prolonged Exhalation

There are many variations on this exercise, but I find the following most useful:

Diaphragmatic/Belly Breathing

Restoring Functional Breathing

Whether your goal is to run faster, longer, sleep better or just enjoy a healthier life, joining my regular 3 Hour Functional Breathing Workshop will help you understand your breathing and how to restore it to its functional best.