How Is the Respiratory System Affected by Exercise?

When you exercise, your body has an increased need for oxygen. The muscles working need more oxygen to perform, so your heart and cardiovascular system responds by pumping out more oxygenated blood to your muscles. To take in oxygen and get rid of waste, your respiratory system must also make adjustments to help meet the demands of the body during exercise.


Pulmonary System

Your respiratory system is comprised of your nose, mouth, lungs and air passages. It can be broken down into the conducting portions and the respiratory portions. The conducting portions are the passage ways into and out of the body. Whereas, the respiratory portion is where the actual exchange of gases occur. The primary function of the respiratory system is to provide a method of gas exchange between the air around you and your body. Essentially this means to bring oxygen into the body for energy production and to remove carbon dioxide from the blood.

Acute Response

When you transition from a resting state to exercising, your rate of respiration, or the number of breaths you take per minute, immediately responds. Initially, your respiration rate increases rapidly. After that initial response, or first few minutes, your respiration rate will level off. However, if you increase your intensity, your respiration rate will increase, but not as rapidly as the initial response. The environment in which you are exercising also has an effect on your rate of respiration. If the environment is hot and humid, it inhibits heat loss, and can increase internal body temperature. In order to combat that, your respiration will also increase. According to Weber University, there is also an increase in the rate of gas exchange at the alveolar and capillary level. This is attributed to the dilation of blood vessels and the surface area of the air sacs within the lungs.

Chronic Adaptation

The long-term effects of exercise on the respiratory system depends on several factors. If you are out of shape, then the effects will be more pronounced. It also depends on the intensity and duration of your exercise regimen. Generally speaking, the greatest impact will be seen at the maximal ventilation rate. This increase will lead to a higher rate of respiration as well as a higher amount of air moved with each breath.


The pulmonary system is not typically a limiting factor in regards to performance. In healthy adults, the respiratory system will keep up with the demands of the body. The only time it is known to limit performance is in elite athletes or those with chronic lung disease.


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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or