Top 10 Interesting Facts about the Respiratory System

The human body is a magnificent structure of different systems that can do some beautiful things. The body requires nourishment and food from the environment such as oxygen and food to fuel various systems in our bodies in order for us to survive. One important system that we can’t neglect (otherwise we’ll die) is the respiratory system.

The respiratory system is comprised of a network or sacs, tubes, and muscles that take oxygen from the air and into our bloodstreams. Oxygenized air is carried and delivered to every cell in our body which in turn uses it to generate energy from the foods we eat. Carbon dioxide, the waste made by cells after oxygen is used up, is sent in the other direction and expelled from our bodies with each exhalation of air.

Even without us telling you this, you probably already learned about the basic functions of the respiratory system in your biology class. This article will focus on 10 of the most fascinating facts you may not know about the respiratory system.

1. Your body uses up water when breathing

Along with expelling carbon dioxide from your body with each exhalation, you also breathe out very small quantities of water. But how much water do you actually lose just from breathing? When at rest, you will exhale an average of 17.5 milliliters of water every 60 minutes. This means that without exercise, staying awake for 18 hours a day will cost you 0.315 liters of water every day. Exercising, even a light jog or walk up a flight of stairs, can have you spitting out more than twice as much water with each breath. This is a reason why doctors recommend drinking at least 2 liters of H2O daily.

2. Women have smaller lungs than men

For the women out there, you can eat right, sleep right, exercise daily, but you just might end up huffing and puffing more than a man who lives a less-healthy lifestyle. The reason isn’t that fast-food burgers are giving him super-power breathing, but his lungs are naturally larger than yours. However, this is completely normal, and women shouldn’t use it as an excuse not to exercise. You just need to consume more water, monitor your breathing pattern, and add intervals to your workout.

3. There are minuscule hairs in your airway

The thought of our airways being covered in little hairs can be disturbing to some, but they actually serve a very important function. These hair-like projects called cilia work somewhat like an escalator for foreign bodies that attempt to set up camp in your lungs. When dust and dander particles enter through your nose and mouth, the cilia move microbe-laden mucus up the airway to capture the foreign bodies. They are then swallowed and digested in the stomach within 24 hours.

4. Our noses work as filters, heaters, and humidifiers

Next time you want to use an electric nose-hair trimmer, think again. Those little hairs trap dust and other particles from making their way into our lungs. The bone in the lateral walls of our noses called turbinates contains blood vessels which heat the air we inhale before passing it to our lungs. Goblet cells, also found in turbinates, secrete mucus which captures dust and sends them to our stomachs. The mucus, when breathed, humidifies the filtered air to prevent dry air from damaging the walls of our lungs.

5. There’s always air in our lungs

If you’ve ever tried blowing up a balloon, you know that the hardest part is getting the balloon inflated with your first few breaths. After the first breath of air is in the balloon, inflating the balloon larger is simple. Our lungs work similar to that: the air that we can’t expel from our lungs, known as residual air, keeps our lungs slightly inflated so the next breath we take can easily expand our lungs. You can never get rid of the residual air, no matter how hard you try. At any given point, there is always around 1,200 milliliters of air in our lungs.

6. Lungs are not sterile

You may have been taught the myth that the lungs of a non-smoker are a sterile, germ-free environment. In school, we’re taught that if our immune systems are intact, they will work to keep our lungs 100% germ-free. This belief, based on a century-old publication, is simply not true. In both healthy and diseased lungs, colonies of bacteria are found in the lower respiratory tract. It’s currently unknown what these colonies have to potential to do, but it’s generally believed that they’re benign microbes that are normally found throughout our bodies and won’t cause respiratory problems.

7. Lungs and tennis courts are about the same size

If someone told you that you had an organ the size of a tennis court in your body right now, you’d probably scoff at them. Ironically, the organs you use to scoff at them are the same ones they’re referring to. Our lungs, when opened and spread and flattened out, can reach up to around 160 square meters. Though extremely large, this is nothing compared to the accumulated length of our arteries, veins, and capillaries which can measure up to around 100,000 kilometers.

8. We take in around 22,000 breaths a day

It’s almost impossible not to focus on your breathing while somehow altering the way or number of times you breathe per minute. However, when at rest and not focused on your breathing, you can inhale and exhale up to around 22,000 breaths a day. With each breath, your body is accepting and storing oxygen for later use while getting rid of carbon dioxide right away. It’s a good idea to have several plants in your household; not just because they produce oxygen but also because they look pretty.

9. Sneezing is good

Sneezing is a semi-involuntary action that our bodies do when our airways are irritated by dust, dander, or other particles. It might be a bit embarrassing to sneeze during a meeting or in the middle of an examination, but it’s actually good for your respiratory system since you’re eliminating irritants which can damage your lungs. Remember to sneeze into your elbow and not your hand. This is the most effective way to capture as much of the mucus, saliva, and germs expelled from your nose and mouth without the risk of infecting others when touching objects or shaking hands.

10. Lungs are the only organ that can float on water

Lungs are the only organ with buoyancy. There are over 300 million alveoli – sac-like structures that get filled with air when inhaling – that can keep our lungs afloat when placed on top of water. However, alveoli will not help your entire body float on water so you still need to take swimming lessons.