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Every Breath We Take: Process Explained

Every Breath We Take: Process Explained

Have you ever wondered how the breathing process works so smoothly? Our lungs allow us to breathe in the oxygen our bodies require, but they do so much more. They also allow us to expel carbon dioxide, a waste product produced by the body, and they are essential for singing, shouting, and even giggling.

To produce energy efficiently, all cells in our body require oxygen. When cells generate energy, they emit carbon dioxide. We get oxygen by breathing in the fresh air and expel carbon dioxide from our bodies by exhaling stale air. However, how exactly does the breathing mechanism function? 

The Breathing Mechanism

Air enters our bodies through our mouths or noses. The air then passes through the windpipe, which divides into two bronchi, one for each lung. The bronchi then divide into smaller and smaller tubes with tiny air sacs called alveoli at their ends. Our lungs contain millions of alveoli! These sacs have extremely thin walls, allowing oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through and enter or exit our blood. The blood carries oxygen to nearly every part of the body. The blood also transports carbon dioxide back to the lungs.

The lungs take up the majority of the space in the chest. Our ribcage’s 12 pairs of ribs protect the lungs and other organs in our chest cavity, such as our heart.

We do not have to think about breathing when we are relaxed. Our diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle between the chest and the abdominal cavity, flattens during this unforced inhalation. This causes the chest cavity to expand, allowing air to enter. Exhalation causes the diaphragm to relax and the lungs to naturally recoil, allowing air to be gently pushed out.

We can also take deeper breaths. We can use force to breathe more deeply when we exercise, sing loudly, or otherwise need or want more air or oxygen. We use a variety of muscles to dramatically increase chest volume. As with relaxed breathing, the expansion of the chest cavity draws air in, filling the lungs. The expansion of the chest cavity causes air to escape. Muscles can also cause the chest cavity to contract more, allowing even more air to escape. Because the expansions and contractions are larger in this case, a greater volume of air flows into and out of our lungs, providing our bodies with a greater supply of oxygen or allowing us to produce more sound.

How Our Body Regulates Breathing

Inhalation is an active process, which means that muscles are used. The diaphragm, the main breathing muscle, and, to a lesser extent, the intercostal muscles perform the majority of the work of inhalation.

Exhalation, on the other hand, is a passive process that involves no muscle activity. Exhalation is caused by the natural elastic recoil of lung tissue and is accompanied by the relaxation of all breathing muscles, much like a balloon deflating.

While you can consciously inhale and exhale at will, breathing is primarily an unconscious process controlled by your brain stem. The brainstem connects the brain to the spinal cord and regulates many automatic bodily processes such as heart rate, blood pressure, reflexes, and breathing.

Your brainstem regulates your breathing rate by sensing your body’s need for oxygen as well as its need to expel carbon dioxide, which is a by-product of cellular respiration.

The Vitality Of Breathing


Breathing, like food and water, is required for survival. However, while you can survive for days without water and possibly weeks without food, you can only survive for a few minutes without breathing.

What is the reason for this? What does breathing accomplish? The importance of breathing is directly related to the importance of one specific element that your body requires every second of every day: oxygen.

Air, which you breathe into your lungs, contains 21% oxygen. When you breathe in oxygen, it enters your lungs and travels to your bloodstream, where it is carried to your tissues and organs. The oxygen is then used by the cells that comprise your tissues and organs to perform functions that keep you alive.

Breathing also serves as a way to expel carbon dioxide gas, which is a byproduct of cellular respiration.

Also published on Medium.

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