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Take a Deep Breath and Improve Your Memory

The human brain at rest demands 20 percent of the lungs’ oxygen intake, while the heart continuously pumps 103,680 beats per day. Researchers postulate that deep breathing exercises and a mindful awareness of breathing patterns can have highly positive health effects.

The act of taking a deep breath draws in life-sustaining oxygen, causing the chest cavity to expand and actually stimulating the neurons (brain cells) in the olfactory cortex (sense of smell receptors in brain), hippocampus and amygdala (brain structures that house memory and emotion).

The sense of smell, or olfactory system, can produce remarkably powerful effects as it detects airborne particles, conveying scents that trigger vivid memories and/or physiological reactions. It is quite common for the scent of a favorite family recipe, a cologne, or other familiar fragrance to trigger either a déjà vu moment or even to bring an instant sense of calm to the nervous system. This is one reason the use of essential oils can be so helpful, whether one wishes to be transported to the “Zen zone” or is looking to stimulate a sense of vigor.

Scientists studied seven epilepsy patients who were scheduled for brain surgery. A week before surgery, electrodes were implanted into the patients’ brains to identify the origin of their seizures. This allowed researchers to glean electro-physiological data directly from the brains of the patients. The electrical signals indicated that brain activity fluctuated with breathing and occurred in areas of the brain where memory, emotions, and smells are processed. This discovery led scientists to wonder whether the cognitive functions associated with these brain areas, particularly fear processing and memory, could also be affected by breathing.

Researchers observed that patients were more likely to remember an object visualized during inhalation (breathing in) versus exhalation (breathing out) through the nose. Mouth breathing negated this effect of improved memory recall.

The process of breathing more rapidly and deeply through the nose is not only vital to surviving life and death circumstances, it also helps equip our bodies with the practical potential to respond more quickly and accurately to various stimuli.

The findings also imply that rapid breathing may be an advantage when in a dangerous situation. In a panic state, breathing rhythm becomes faster. Proportionally more time is spent inhaling than when a person is in a calm state. The body’s response to fear with faster nasal breathing seems to have a positive impact on brain function, resulting in a faster response time to dangerous stimuli in the environment. Harnessing this same technique in a controlled setting while seated (to help prevent dizziness from hyper-ventilation) might just be the thing to give you an edge while working on that big deadline or trying to stimulate creativity. Increasing your breath awareness while working and living in a temperature-neutral or slightly cool environment will also help improve mood and oxygen delivery to the 100 billion neurons (brain cells) that comprise the human brain.

So the next time someone suggests you step back and take a deep breath, their advice—whether they realize it or not—may be just what you need to gain a healthier, clearer perspective. I encourage my patients also to use essential oils to stimulate their senses. Lavender is known for its calming effects, whereas citrus fragrances are often invigorating. In our office and waiting room, we even use thieves oil, widely believed to help support immune function.

Reference: Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive FunctionJournal of Neuroscience, 2016; 36 (49): 12448.


Health Tips On the Go!

Improve Posture

  • 1.Avoid slouching. Be aware of your posture as you walk, sit, and drive, keep shoulders squared and head pulled back and up.

  • 2.Imagine a thread pulling the top of your head toward the ceiling. Visualization can help improve your sense of position.

  • 3.If your job requires you to sit for long periods, take frequent breaks to stand, stretch and shake it out.

  • 4.Maintain a strong core to help support proper posture. Add core-training exercises to your daily routine.

  • 5.A firm mattress and ergonomic pillow help achieve proper back support while you sleep, so you'll stand straighter in the a.m.

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