How does exercise affect breathing rate?

Updated February 21, 2017

Exercise can have profound effects on your health as well as on the efficiency of your body's oxygen-carrying capacity. Cardio workouts build endurance by directly affecting your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. This type of exercise is an essential part of a fitness plan. You may detect the effects of exercise most noticeably in your breathing rate.

Cellular Changes

Your body is quick to adapt to changes in your lifestyle. Adaptations that affect your breathing rate happen at the cellular level. Your body recognizes the need for more oxygen, causing biological changes to occur. These changes help your blood deliver oxygen more efficiently and quickly. Your body will increase energy production by increasing its capacity to produce fuel. The amount of oxygen-carrying protein and red blood cells will increase, resulting in a more efficient cardiovascular system.

Heart Rate

The adaptations that your body has made will affect your breathing rate even at rest. Your resting heart rate will lower because your body has an increased capacity to deliver oxygen. You will breath more slowly even when not exercising. Likewise, your breath rate will be slower when you work out versus exercising after living a sedentary lifestyle.

Respiratory System Function

When you exercise, you are placing great demands on your body. It must carry out normal internal processes while fueling your workout. Your heart will beat faster and stronger. The result is that your increased strength from exercise will also increase the muscle mass of your diaphragm and intercostal muscles, which support respiration. The amount of air you can take in with a single breath will increase. Combined with the efficiency of your cardiovascular system, you can breathe less frequently and still receive adequate amounts of oxygen.

Target Heart Zone

Your breath rate is closely linked to your heart rate. There is a maximum rate at which your heart can beat, which varies with your age. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends that you exercise within 50 to 75 per cent of this maximum rate. You will then set up the scenario for strengthening your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, which will in turn affect your breathing rate.

Too Much Exercise

As with your heart, there is a maximum capacity at which your respiratory system can function. Too much exercise will increase your breathing rate to its maximum capacity, when it can go no higher, leaving your body deficient in oxygen. You may experience dizziness. You may feel breathless. These are indications that your breathing rate is not meeting your body's needs for oxygen. In this case, you should stop exercising or slow down until your body can catch up with your need for air.

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About the Author

Chris Dinesen Rogers has been online marketing for more than eight years. She has grown her own art business through SEO and social media and is a consultant specializing in SEO and website development. Her past work experience includes teaching pre-nursing students beginning biology, human anatomy and physiology. Rogers's more than 10 years in conservation makes her equally at home in the outdoors.