Why must I breathe so hard during exercise?

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When you exercise, your breathing rate increases to compensate for the increased need of oxygen that is required for your body to release energy. When you exhale, you expel carbon dioxide, a waste product of respiration. 

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During exercise, your lungs and respiratory system must provide more oxygen to the blood. You will breathe harder and faster because:

  • Respiratory muscles are stimulated by sympathetic nerves in order to increase the rate of breathing.
  • Llactic acid, hydrogen ions, and carbon dioxide are metabolic byproducts from muscles in the blood, and they will stimulate the respiratory centers in the brainstem further stimulating the respiratory muscles.
  • The increased force of each heartbeat will cause slightly higher blood pressure, because the elevated cardiac output opens blood flow to more alveoli (blood sacs) in the lungs. Ventilation is increased and more oxygen enters the blood.
  • The lungs have absorbed more oxygen and the blood flow to the muscles has increased, and thus your muscles have more oxygen in the process.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.