Breathing is a behavior so automatic that we rarely take the time to notice it. Have you ever paid attention to how your breathing changes based on your everyday actions like laughing, resting, eating, talking and more? We take about 20,000 breaths a day, pulling in oxygen to fuel our cells and tissues, and ridding the body of carbon dioxide – and we take most of those breaths for granted. But did you know that how you breathe actually affects your brain?

In recent years, researchers have begun to unravel the many influences breathing has on your body and mind.The rhythm of your respiration influences a wide range of behaviors, as well as cognition and emotion. The muscles that control breathing take their orders from the brain, and scientists have discovered a distinct interplay between breathing and other behaviors that require alterations in breathing.

It’s interesting to note that multiple studies have concentrated on certain actions related to breathing — for example, one study found that people tend to inhale just before a cognitive task, and that doing so tends to improve performance. Several studies have found that it is only breathing through the nose that has these particular effects; breathing through the mouth does not. Researchers have also found that meditation can improve memory performance and alter brain connectivity in older people with mild cognitive impairment.

The research is extensive, and the results are complicated — but the fact is, we have the tool of breathing at our disposal to improve not only our brain health, but our overall health — we just need to learn how to use it.

How you breathe affects your brain