Respiration During Exercise


The respiratory system supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide and other waste products. The primary purpose of the respiratory system during exercise includes regulation of the acid-base balance and the exchange of gasses between the environment and the body. During exercise the body moves through several types of metabolic pathways, influencing respiration.

You Can Adapt

  • Exercise places stress on your respiratory system, providing stimulus to change and adapt. The type of response primarily depends on the type, intensity and duration of your training. Changes may include an increase in the maximal rate of pulmonary ventilation, or breathing. You may also increase your pulmonary diffusion capacity, which means your lungs can transport gas into and out of the bloodstream more efficiently. This is why conditioned athletes have lower resting heart rates, for example, when compared with non-athletes.

Respiration With Oxygen

  • Aerobic metabolism primarily fuels endurance exercises, such as jogging or swimming, which are generally less intense and can be sustained for long periods of time. Aerobic exercise relies on oxygen to help convert nutrients to energy via aerobic metabolism. Although this system is slower than anaerobic metabolism, aerobic exercise can continue for long periods of time. However, as you increase the intensity and duration of exercise, the demand for oxygen becomes more essential and oxygen consumption increases.

Energy Without Oxygen

  • Exercise such as weight training or a short sprint predominantly rely on anaerobic metabolism. Since your muscles only have a small amount of stored ATP -- the primary energy source that fuels your muscles during exercise -- this system only provides energy for a few seconds of maximal exercise. Unlike aerobic metabolism, this pathway does not require oxygen to create energy. Instead, your body uses carbohydrates from the food you eat, or a molecule called creatine phosphate that's stored in your cells, to create more ATP.

Fitness Testing

  • During intense or maximal exercise, oxygen uptake increases until your oxygen consumption reaches a plateau. This is known as your VO2 max -- the maximum amount of oxygen your body can process in one minute -- and is commonly used to measure respiratory function with exercise. In fact, VO2 max is generally considered the best indicator of your cardiorespiratory fitness and aerobic endurance, according to "Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General." Although your VO2 max is in part limited by your genetics, training can help you reach your maximum potential.

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  • Photo Credit BrianAJackson/iStock/Getty Images Yobro10/iStock/Getty Images Carey Hope/iStock/Getty Images Andersen Ross/Blend Images/Getty Images Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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