Respiration, Exercise, and Heart Rate: The Facts

There is a direct correlation between respiration and the exercise heart rate. To understand the facts, you must understand what the terms mean and how respiration, exercise and heart rate are all connected.


Respiration is defined as the  exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the external environment and the cells of the body. The primary function is to obtain the oxygen (O2) from the air we breathe and eliminate carbon dioxide (CO2). Oxygen is carried to the cells of the body through the blood, and the CO2 is transported from the cells back to the lungs and expelled with each exhale. Respiration increases–that is to say more O2 is brought in and more CO2 exhaled out–as we become more active, as is the case with exercise.

Heart Rate

Heart rate is also effected by exercise. Aerobic exercises or cardio exercises are those exercises designed to increase the heart rate for an extended period of time, thus strengthening the heart. Exercises such as aerobic dance, tennis, running, swimming, skiing (both cross- country and downhill) and jogging are all considered to be aerobic or cardio exercises.

The resting heart rate is that which is present before exercise or when a person is at rest or asleep. The heart rate increases as you begin to become more active or begin to exercise. The resting and exercise heart rate are controlled by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system controls the body during physical activity by increasing the heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. It also stimulates the release of glucose from the liver for energy.  Also, during exercise, the body releases epinephrine and nor-epinephrine which stimulates receptors in the heart, causing the heart rate to increase as well.

The parasympathetic nervous system helps to slow the heart rate and respiration after exercise. When the heart is at rest, the heart is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system.


Regular exercise can cause a decrease in the resting heart rate as much at 20 to 30 beats per minute. This is due to improved myocardial efficiency. The time it takes for the increased heart rate -due to exercise- to return to the resting heart rate improves with exercise frequency and duration. The decreased recovery time between these heart rates is often seen as an indicator of improved fitness.

Increased respiration, and a healthier heart and body, are all the result of regular exercise. However, anyone starting a new exercise regimen should consult with a physician prior to doing so, especially those suffering from conditions such as diabetes or cardiomyopathy. Careful monitoring is necessary when exercising due to the increased risks involved with these diseases.


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