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THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

Respiratory System

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF BREATHING?

You have to breathe because all of the cells in your body require oxygen. Without oxygen, your body wouldn't move. It would be like a parked car without no battery. The car might have gas, but without a battery, forget it! So you might have blood in your body, but without oxygen, forget it!
You receive oxygen from breathing in air and then the oxygen goes to your blood which is then circulated throughout your entire body.

WHAT IS THE PROCESS OF BREATHING?

You breathe with the help of your diaphragm (which is a dome-shaped muscle under your rib cage) and other muscles in your chest and abdomen. These muscles will literally change the space and pressure inside your body cavity to accomodate your breathing. When your diaphragm pulls down, it is making room for the lungs to expand. The lungs get bigger with air and pushes the diaphragm down. The diaphragm also lowers the internal air pressure.

Outside of your body, the air pressure is greater and you suck in air when you inhale. The air then expands your lungs like two balloons being blown up. When your diaphragm relaxes, it moves up and the cavity inside your body gets smaller. Your muscles will then squeeze your rib cage and your lungs begin to collapse as the air is pushed up and out your body when you exhale. Cool huh?

Respiratory System

BREATHING BEGINS IN THE NOSE

About 18 - 20 times a minute, you breathe in. When a doctor puts hisor her hand on your shoulder or back and looks at the clock, they are keeping track of how many times you breathe within one minute. This is how one of your vital signs is measured, called "respiration."

When you breathe, you inhale air and pass it through your nasal passages where the air is filtered, heated, moistened and enters the back of the throat. The esophagus (food tube) is located at the back of the throat and the trachea (windpipe) for air is located at the front of the throat. When you eat, a tiny flap called the "epiglottis" closes down to cover the windpipe so food won't go down the wrong pipe.

WHAT ARE THOSE TINY AIR SACS FOR?

Air flows down through the windpipe, past the vocal cords (voice box), to where the lowest ribs meet the center of your chest. This is where your windpipe divides into two tubes which lead to each of the two lungs that fill most of your ribcage. Each lung feels just like a sponge. Inside each of your sponge-like lungs, there are tubes called bronchi which branch into even smaller tubes just like the branches of a tree. At the end of these tubes are millions of itty bitty bubbles or sacs called alveoli. If you were to spread out flat all of the air sacs in the lungs of an adult, the tissue would cover an area about the third of the size of a tennis court.

Respiratory System

WHAT DO THE SACS DO?

The alveoli sacs bring new oxygen from air you just breathed to your bloodstream. It is here that a phenomenal exchange takes place. The oxygen is exchanged for waste products, like carbon dioxide, which the cells in your body have made and can't use.

HOW DOES THE OXYGEN/WASTE EXCHANGE WORK?

This phenomenal exchange works with the assistance of the red blood cells in your bloodstream. Your red blood cells are like box cars on a railroad track. They will show up at the sacs at just the right time, ready to trade in old carbon dioxide that your body's cells have made for some new oxygen you just breathed in. During this process, the red blood cells turn from purple to a sparkling red color as they start carrying the oxygen to ALL the cells in your body.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CARBON DIOXIDE?

The carbon dioxide (waste) that your body made and now can't use will go through the lungs, back up your windpipe and out with every single exhale. This is a chemical exchange of breathing in and out (inhalation/exhalation). This is an automatic process that you don't even have to think about. Unless of course you smoke, then you'd be depriving ALL of your cells of oxygen.

JUST THE FACTS:

  • Your lungs contain almost 1500 miles of airways and over 300 million alveoli.

  • Every minute you breathe in 13 pints of air.

  • Plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Plants are our partners in breathing. We breathe in air, use the oxygen in it, and release carbon dioxide.

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DISCLAIMER

**This web site's goal is to provide you with information that may be useful in attaining optimal health. Nothing in it is meant as a prescription or as medical advice. You should check with your physician before implementing any changes in your exercise or lifestyle habits, especially if you have physical problems or are taking medications of any kind.