If we could track our breaths the way many people do steps or exercise, the results would be astonishing. While there’s no app for that, scientists estimate that an average person takes 20,000 to 25,000 breaths over the course of 24 hours. That breaks down to between 12 and 18 breaths per minute for an adult. Children typically breathe more quickly, up to 60 breaths per minute, which tapers down to the adult rate by their teenage years. All those inhales and exhales add up, and by age 50, the average human has taken at least 400 million breaths. Each one helps fuel our bodies; oxygen is a crucial component needed for our most basic functions, like moving muscles, digesting food, and even thinking.
Breathing tends to be an automatic process, but some scientists say that not everyone does it right. Mouth breathing isn’t just annoying when you’re sick or to those around you — it’s actually inefficient for your body. Inhaling through the nose helps heat and pressurize air so that the lungs can extract oxygen efficiently, and the cilia (aka nose hairs) are able to stop particles like pollen and pollution from entering the lungs; neither job can be done by the mouth. Mouth breathing can also cause sleep apnea, snoring, and even asthma. Amazingly, it can change the structure of your face over time; children who primarily breathe through their mouths have a higher chance of having narrow mouths and misaligned teeth.
Breathing is a requirement for most living creatures on Earth, except one: a parasitic, water-dwelling blob called the Henneguya salminicola. In 2020, a group of scientists from Israel, France, and the U.S. announced they had discovered that the parasite — which is microscopic and typically infects salmon — doesn’t appear to breathe. In fact, it could be the only known non-breathing animal on the planet. H. salminicola belongs to the same family as jellyfish, which do breathe by absorbing the oxygen in water directly through their skin; however, H. salminicola lacks mitochondrial DNA, a part of the DNA sequence that turns oxygen into fuel to power the body’s cells. Earth is home to many simple, single-celled organisms (like yeast and bacteria) that don’t need to breathe, but H. salminicola stands out because it’s the first known multicellular animal that’s not dependent on oxygen — and researchers aren’t sure why. One theory is that the parasite could get the power it needs to survive by stealing protein from its fish hosts.