Could something as simple as remembering to breath improve your memory?

When you get upset you’re advised to take a deep breath. When you’re about to go on stage – just remember to breath. And if you take a yoga or tai chi class you’ll find just as much importance is placed on when you inhale and exhale, as the poses you perform.

For many years traditional medicine and the wisdom of old wives has known about the role breathing plays in the healthy functioning of the brain. Now a new body of research has given some scientific cred to folk medicine by showing that breathing through the nose actually improves your memory.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden conducted a study in which participants were asked to breath through their noses for one hour before being given 12 things to smell and try to remember. They were then asked to breath through their mouth for one hour before given another set of 12 things to smell and try to remember.

As reported in The Journal of Neuroscience, the results showed that participants remembered smells from the first ‘nose-breathing’ exercise much better than from the second ‘mouth-breathing’ one.

Dr Artin Arshamian, who led the research, told ScienceDaily that the study demonstrated that breathing through the nose consolidates a brain process between learning and memory retrieval.

“The idea that breathing affects our behaviour is actually not new,” Dr Arshamian said, “In fact, the knowledge has been around for thousands of years in such areas as meditation. But no one has managed to prove scientifically what actually goes on in the brain. We now have tools that can reveal new clinical knowledge.”

The results from this study may be supported by another body of research that found increasing oxygen intake by 30% through 10 minutes of light exercise could improve memory formation and storage.

In this study scientists from the University of California separated study participants into two groups – one group performed light exercise for ten minutes while the other rested. At the end of ten minutes participants in both groups were shown a series of images which they were later asked to recall and identify.

The results showed that the group who had increased their oxygen intake were better at separating or distinguishing between different memories than the control group.

So what does all this mean? Well if you’re studying for an exam, have a job that requires a lot of recall, or just keep forgetting where you put your keys, take a deep breath and remember your nose knows and don’t forget it!