It’s your lungs calling.
How well do you know them?
How well do you know how they work? How your respiratory system functions?
It’s time to lay down some facts.
As you may know from my old posts, building a better body requires strengthening your heart and the systems responsible for efficiently delivering oxygen and nutrients to the working tissues of the body. This is exactly what I talked about a while back when I wrote a post titled How does the Cardiovascular System Work. It explains exactly what your heart goes through as you put your body through varying types of activities.
I want you to start there.
Today is a new day and I want to focus more on the respiratory system and, more specifically, the function of the respiratory system in a functionally strong body. The cardiovascular and respiratory system are actually deeply intertwined, each relying on the other to do its part.
If you haven’t already, I suggest you first take a look at how the cardiovascular system works. Once you see the intricate components that make up the heart and its supporting mediums, you’re ready to see how the function of the respiratory system comes into play.
It’s time to get dirty.
Each and every day, you breathe anywhere from twelve to twenty times per minute – all thanks to your respiratory system.
That’s over 28,000 breaths a day!
The respiratory system itself is composed of a number of intricate components that work together to do one job: deliver oxygen to every cell in every tissue in your body while, at the same time, removing carbon dioxide as a waste product. The oxygen enables the cells in your body to release energy and then use that energy to keep every function in your body operating at optimal levels.
As you know, a functionally strong body is efficient in every aspect, including the respiration process. That being said, the more efficiently your body is capable of delivering oxygen to the working tissues, the better you will be able to perform.
But what is really going on while we breathe?
The respiration process is initiated with a breath. Just like your heart rate, breathing is an involuntary process that is controlled by a region in your brain that we call the medulla.
There is nothing you can do about this process – it just happens.
You can try holding your breath but eventually the excessive carbon dioxide buildup in your blood will force your brain to signal for you to either gasp for air or simply pass out and begin breathing normally. (Please do not try this at home)
The actual breathing process is aided by a rather large, kind of dome-shaped muscle that sits under your lungs – it’s called the diaphragm. Contraction of the diaphragm creates a vacuum that results in air rushing into your lungs. That’s you breathing in. As the diaphragm relaxes, the lungs deflate and you breathe out.
You have intercostal muscles that lie directly between the ribs that help with the overall breathing mechanism. They push and pull the lungs to aid in the expansion and contraction to help you breathe more easily.
When your intensity (or even stress) level increases, breathing becomes more difficult because, all of a sudden, your hard working muscles are demanding more oxygen. Your abdominal muscles come to the rescue. They assist your diaphragm and intercostal muscles to move faster and with greater force allowing your lungs to expand and relax at a faster rate. This is another reason why it’s important to keep your core strong.
An efficient respiratory system uses the nasal cavity (nose) as the optimal point of entrance for outside air to come in. You should always be breathing through your nose. This is because we have hairs, called cilia, that line the inside walls of the cavity – this is all part of our air-cleansing system. If your body is not functionally strong, then you more than likely have a habit of breathing through your mouth. Breathing through your mouth allows harmful substances to enter and possibly cause damage to your lungs.
Our respiratory systems come equipped with shields that prevent harmful substances from entering our lungs. These are the forementioned cilia. But these tiny hairs are not only found in your nasal cavity, they are also found along your air passages. They move in a swaying, or wavy, motion to keep our air passages clean.
A system that is functionally strong has healthy cilia. A system that is not functionally strong (for instance, that of a smoker) has unhealthy, poorly functioning cilia that allow dust, bacteria, viruses and all sorts of allergy-causing substances to enter the lungs and initiate the build up of disease.
If you want to build a better body, get off the cigarette train and keep your cilia functioning properly.
As was discussed in the previous post explaining the cardiovascular system, the actual gas exchange process is quite simple.
The pharynx (throat) is there to collect the air that comes in and passes it down to the trachea. The trachea then divides into two main bronchi tubes, each leading to one of the two lungs. The bronchi tubes then further subdivide into bronchioles. At the end of the bronchioles lie the alveoli, the tiny small sacs of air that are the final destination of the air that we breathe in. Note that your body has over 300 million alveoli. The alveoli are surrounded by a mesh of tiny blood vessels called capillaries and it is the interaction of these two components that we rely so heavily on to deliver oxygen to our body. Through diffusion, oxygen is transferred to the blood and is then delivered to the rest of the body. At the same time, carbon dioxide is transferred from the blood to the alveoli where they are then expelled through the air we breathe out.
It is as complicated and as simple as that.
Because I have a fascination for the human body and how it works, I thought I’d end the post by sharing a few interesting facts about the respiratory system that I found here.
Interesting Points about the Function of Respiratory System
Why we yawn: When your body is not getting or processing enough oxygen (for instance, if we’re tired), it compensates by yawning, which is really the act of taking a deep, long breath (you’re probably yawning right now).
Why we sneeze: When you take a breath, the upper airway passages can attract an irritant such as dust or pollen. By sneezing, the high-pressure exhalation pushes the irritant out of the airway.
Why in the world do we hiccup: The answer? Nobody knows!! Hiccups are actually involuntary contractions of the diaphragm, which cause the lungs to contract and air to be pushed out.
Why we cough: Similar to a sneeze, we cough to force irritants or debris out of the air passages. A cough is simply a reflex that forces a quick exhalation. Coughing can also signify infection in the lungs so we cough to try to clear the lungs of mucus.
That’s all for today.
I hope this post has opened your eyes a bit when it comes to understanding the importance of having a healthy respiratory system. If you have any questions or comments with regards to the function of respiratory system, please leave them in the comment section below!