When we’re talking about dealing with uncomfortable or stressful situations head on, health professionals for ages have recommended this piece of advice: Take a breath, inhale through the nose, and exhale through the mouth. To date, new studies indicate that this specific breathing technique can improve your memory and brain activity. Researchers did a study with roughly 100 adults, who were asked to make quick judgments regarding facial expressions that moved rapidly across a computer screen. The studies did show that breathing indeed did have an impact on their performance. When they breathed through their mouth, all these effects faded.
“Our data is preliminary, but exciting,” stated author Christina Zelano, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, to Health. “And though it is too preliminary at this stage, it has the potential to lead to some deliberate breathing strategies for cognitive enhancement.”
She also noted that one of the study’s vital discoveries is that inhaling through the nose causes a “dramatic difference” in areas of the brain connected to emotional processing (the amygdala) and memory (the hippocampus), in comparison with exhaling.
Researchers data shows that when you breathe in, you're stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus, all across the limbic system. Future research on this related area might help elaborate the established psychological benefits of meditation, noted Zelano, which can organize brain oscillations around the brain’s emotion center.
The findings may also suggest as to why our breathing tends to speed up when we’re in uncomfortable or tenseful situations. “As a result, you’ll spend proportionally more time inhaling than when in a calm state,” Zelano added. This could affect brain function, she adds, “and result in faster response times to dangerous stimuli in the environment.”