Why Does Breathing Rate Increase with Exercise?

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Sometimes being a little out of breath is a good thing, as it means you're working harder than your body is accustomed to on a regular basis. Yes, exercise can be uncomfortable, but it also allows you to maintain a fit physique and improve your health. Heavy breathing is normal when you start exercising, and you'll breathe even heavier as your workout intensity increases.

Take a Deep Breath

  • Breathing is an essential part of life that brings oxygen into your body and gets rid of carbon dioxide. Oxygen allows your body to create energy at a cellular level. In terms of exercise, this means that you can move your muscles and get a good workout. When you're sitting on the couch, your body needs a small amount of oxygen to function. However, once you start moving those energy demands increase and you breathe faster.

Under the Microscope

  • Oxygen travels to your working muscles through the bloodstream. As blood flows oxygen crosses the cell walls into muscle tissue, while carbon dioxide enters the bloodstream to be expelled by the lungs. Oxygen is then used in a process called oxidative metabolism. This process helps to break down nutrients such as carbohydrates, fat and protein into a usable energy source for the body, ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. Breaking down ATP releases energy that your muscles use to keep working.

Out of Breath

  • When you perform higher-intensity activities your muscles demand more energy. Your body responds by increasing your heart and breathing rates to provide oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. But if you push your body too hard, you can't catch your breath. You fatigue and can't continue to exercise because you lack sufficient fuel.

Slow and Steady

  • Your maximal oxygen uptake -- the most oxygen you can consume per minute -- is known as your VO2 max. Athletes have higher VO2 max levels than untrained people because their bodies have become very good at delivering and using oxygen. To improve your VO2 max, start every workout with a warm-up, so your heart and breathing rates increase gradually, and then exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity that challenges your body. End each session with a five-minute cool-down to bring your heart and breathing rates back to normal. Your body will gradually adapt to the challenges of exercise and become more efficient at consuming oxygen from the bloodstream. You should then breathe more easily at the same intensity level.

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