Does Deep Breathing Improve Memory?

does deep breathing improve memory

Does deep breathing improve memory? According to the latest research, yes it does. Deep breathing is shown to affect our limbic system, an area of the brain responsible for our emotions, urges, and cognitive health. What’s more, experts say that you can directly influence how you think and remember things just by the way you breathe. Read on to find out more…

Focus on your breath. That’s been one of the key aspects of meditation and Eastern philosophy for thousands of years. Focusing on one’s breath is thought to be one of the main ways of achieving inner peace and enlightenment.

And it looks like science is catching up. A recent study from the journal of Neuroscience shows a strong link between breathing and memory. (1)

Researchers that conducted a study found that our rythm of breath directly influences our brain activity.

However, it’s not just the rythm of your breath that affects your mental performance. But also other factors such as shallow or deep breathing, and whether you breathe through your nose or mouth.

So let’s get right to it and answer the question, “how and why does deep breathing improve memory?”

Does Deep Breathing Improve Memory?

First things first, deep breathing indeed has the power to improve your memory. Particularly, the inhalation part appears to affect your ability to store and recollect information.

The neuroscientists from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine found that breathing (especially deep breathing) causes major changes in our brain activity. (1)

Specifically, inhalation was shown to affect our amygdala and hippocampus. These are the areas of your brain which control everything from mood, memory to thought processing.

In the study, the recruiters found that deep breathing (especially the inhalation part, and through the nose) increased the participants’ ability to recollect images and other information.


Essentially, deep breathing boosts the activity of areas of your brain responsible for memory, mood, and cognition – making you react better and think faster.

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How Does Deep Breathing Improve Memory?

Jay Gottfried is a neurology professor and one of the leading experts on deep breathing and brain performance. Gottfried says that practices like focused breathing have long been a key part of meditation. But thanks to the studies he conducted, we now know why these practices work on a biological level.

In a study from the journal of Neuroscience, Gottfried said: “when you inhale, you’re in a sense synchronizing brain oscillations across the limbic network.” (2)

This link between breathing and brain activity was first discovered by accident. While a team of researchers studied 7 epileptic patients before going for brain surgery.

Each patient was hooked up to EEG, a machine that measures brainwaves. They had electrodes implanted in their skulls in order to gather data on their seizures and where these seizures originated. Unexpectedly, the researchers discovered that their patients’ brain activities were closely tied with their breathing patterns.

They discovered that the rythm of your breath can directly influence how you think and feel. Which is quite a huge discovery. Think about it – according to this study, you can breathe your way into a different mental state.

It was later found that there are three key areas in your brain which breathing affects. These are the hippocampus, amygdala, and piriform cortex.

While the amygdala and the hippocampus are responsible for your memory and emotions, the piriform cortex controls your sense of smell.

Together, they make up the limbic system which controls your basic emotions such as fear and anger, along with our primal drives such as hunger, caring for children, and sexual urges. It’s worth noting that the limbic system also regulates your ‘higher’ emotions.


Deep breathing affects your limbic system, which includes the hippocampus, amygdala, and the piriform cortex, which control your thinking and instincts. According to research, by simply breathing differently, you can put yourself in a completely different headspace – both emotionally and cognition-wise.

Breathing Through Your Nose vs. Mouth: Which is Better For Memory?

I mentioned a study from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine early in this post.

Well, as it turns out, the study found that in addition to doing deep breathing, it also mattered whether the study participants breathed through their nose or mouth.

Those breathing through their nose had higher activity in their amygdala and the hippocampus. Making them more alert and sharper.

The study took 70 participants between the ages of 18-30. Each person was assigned the task of looking at images of faces on a computer. Each image lasted only about a second. As these people looked through the images, they were hooked up to a machine that looks at breathing parameters.

The task of these people was to determine whether the face on the screen showed surprise or fear. The researchers wanted to see if inhalation or exhalation through the mouth vs. nose would affect how they perceived images in any way.

The researchers discovered that when inhaling through the nose, the recruiters’ mental capabilities and speed of processing images increased.

Additionally, in another part of the study, people that inhaled when they saw objects on a computer screen remembered the details of those objects better than those who breathed out. What’s more, inhalation through the nose made their recall about 5% more accurate.


Put simply, inhaling through your nose can help you remember things better. Especially when you’re worried or scared. This can help you react better to situations. Deep breathing exercises are also shown to improve our memory and help us make smarter decisions, instead of letting our emotions take control.

Anything Else to Consider?

As we’ve seen, deep breathing is a great way to not only improve your memory but mood too.

If you’ve never practiced deep breathing before, it can feel unnatural at first.

But two great exercises for starters are the diaphragmatic breathing technique, and rib-stretch breathing method.

You can learn how to do these exercises in our full deep breathing guide.

Start with just one short deep breathing session per day. Then as your body adapts, add more exercises throughout the day.

Remember that deep breathing is a skill like any other, and it might take a week or two before you start noticing its full scope of benefits on your memory and mental state.

Conclusion on Does Deep Breathing Improve Memory

Thanks to modern research, we now know for sure what people that practice Eastern Philosophy knew all along – how you breathe controls how you feel and think.

And as it turns out, how you breathe also controls how well you remember things.

That’s correct, experts have shown us that the answer to “does deep breathing improve memory” is a clear and loud ‘yes’.

So next time you’re having that exam or an important event coming up, why not practice some deep breathing leading up to it? It could certainly help kick your brain into high gear when you need it the most!

References
  1. Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function. (source)
  2. The rhythm of breathing affects memory and fear. (source)

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About Valentino Muza 33 Articles
Valentino is a nutritionist, author, spiritual practitioner, and health coach. He's been researching nutrition and brain health since 2015, and has launched Valentino's Naturals to help people maximize their cognitive performance. When he isn't writing, Valentino loves to travel around Europe, spend time recharging in nature, and research topics within his field of expertise. More...

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