Breath gives life, so breathing is one of the most important things our respiratory systems accomplish. The most vital components of breathing are our lungs.
Here are some facts about our lungs1 that are notable:
- In humans, the right lung is larger than the left to accommodate the heart.
- Exhalation is just as important as inhalation. The air we breathe contains 21% oxygen, of which only 5% is used—the rest is exhaled.
- We think of our digestive systems as being in charge of waste disposal; however, 70% of waste is eliminated through our lungs in the form of up to 17.5 milliliters of water exhaled each hour!
- Children and women breathe at a higher rate than men.
- Lungs are the only organs in the human body that are capable of floating on water.
- A person inhales an average of 13 pints of air every minute!
- Imagine this: If we were to open up the lungs and lay them flat, they would be so large that they would cover an entire tennis court!
So many physical activities we do naturally are the work of our respiratory systems. For example, coughing, sneezing and yawning are ways to rid our lungs of unwanted substances that we unknowingly inhale. Yawning also helps us intake more oxygen, especially when the brain senses a shortage of needed air! 2
Similar to our digestive tracts, our lower respiratory tract is colonized by diverse groups of bacteria. On the other hand, unlike the bacteria in our digestive tracts, studies have shown that the flora or microbes in the respiratory tract do not cause disease.3
As we inhale and exhale, there’s a small amount of air, called residual volume, that always stays inside our lungs.4 Our amazing lungs keep at least 1,200 ml of air in the lungs at all times! Even after we do a good exhale, there’s always more that can be pushed out.
Residual volume actually helps keep smaller airways and air sacs (known as alveoli) open a little at all times, so that the next breath and the next and so on, comes easier. The tiny but powerful alveoli cover a surface that measures more than 1,076.4 sq. ft. or 100 sq.m. This large surface area is necessary to process the huge amounts of air involved in breathing and getting oxygen to our lungs.5 Alveoli are responsible for three overall processes6 involved in breathing:
- Ventilation: moving air in and out of the lungs
- Diffusion: oxygen-carbon dioxide exchange
- Perfusion: pumping blood through the lungs
When we take deep breaths in and exhale slowly, we are helping our lungs do their best work! It’s all part of Active Wellness and getting to know the intricacies of our remarkable bodies.