Take A Medical Look At Your Lungs
You know that your body needs oxygen so you can survive, but what happens to the air once it's inside of your body? The respiratory system and all of its various parts work together to help you take in oxygen that your entire body needs. It isn't just your lungs that need oxygen: Your brain needs oxygen to function properly. And your arms and legs need oxygen so that you can move. The exchange of gases through breathing takes place without most of us giving it a second thought. You don't need to remind your body to take in air: Instead, it happens automatically. Let's take a medical look at the respiratory system, including your lungs and your diaphragm.
The Respiratory System
There are several different parts of the body that make up the respiratory system. It all starts with your nose or your mouth. (While you may breathe through your nose most of the time, think about the last time that you ran a long distance. You might have noticed that as your breathing increased, you started to breathe through your mouth.) These are the two different places that a breath can enter your body. Air moves down the trachea until it splits into two sections called bronchi. These smaller tubes become the bronchial tubes, and air moves directly through those into your lungs. Once there, with the help of red blood cells and the diaphragm, an exchange of gasses takes place. You breathe in oxygen but breathe out carbon dioxide, something that your body doesn't need. For the average adult, this process takes place around 12 to 20 times per minute. Increased activity increases the number of breaths taken per minute.
Under the surface, your lungs are working hard as you take in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. The lungs are divided into two parts. The left lung is made up of two lobes, while the right lung is made up of three. (The left side of the lungs is slightly smaller to make room for the heart.) These lobes are made up of lots of small tubes that end with small sacs called alveoli. An average adult often has around 600 million of these inside their lungs! The oxygen moves into the alveoli and then heads to the capillaries so that the red blood cells can transport it all around the body. At the same time, the carbon dioxide brought in from the red blood cells moves into the alveoli and it backtracks, following the same path as the oxygen in reverse. When you breathe out, the carbon dioxide is released into the air. Sometimes, medical issues prevent the lungs from working properly. Conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and pneumonia make it difficult for the lungs to function like they should. It might be hard to believe, but it is possible to live with just one lung. Because this cuts a person's oxygen intake considerably, a person needs to limit their activity level in order to function with a portion of the respiratory system missing.
Take a big, deep breath. Can you see how your chest expands as the air enters your body? This is oxygen entering your lungs. Now, let that big breath out. Notice how your chest contracts back to normal. Your diaphragm is located below your lungs and is a dome-shaped muscle. As you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts, making more spaces for the lungs to bring in air. Then, it expands, forcing the air out of the lungs. It is important to note that you don't have to tell the diaphragm to go through this process. Instead, it happens automatically. Not sure where your diaphragm is located? Next time you get the hiccups, pay special attention to what is happening with your body and where the hiccups are actually coming from.
BONUS! What About Gills?
While your lungs are an important part of your respiratory system, fish and other aquatic animals depend on gills to do a similar job. Instead of taking oxygen from the air, gills take oxygen from the water. The same exchange of gasses takes place, and the gills expel out carbon dioxide into the water. Most fish have four gills on each side, and they need to cover a large surface to ensure that the fish gets enough oxygen. If you watch a fish, you can see the gills moving as water is pulled in and then pushed out! This movement is a lot like your chest cavity moving as you breathe in air.