The one thing almost everyone knows about breathing is that we do it because we need oxygen. But if asked why we need oxygen most people throw up their hands or just say “to live?”.
How can something so central to staying alive be so mysterious?
So, take a few seconds and see if you can explain to yourself why you need oxygen to stay alive.
Ok figure it out? Here’s the answer in case you are blanking.
Oxygen is essential for us to stay alive because it is the necessary ingredient for our body to create energy. Just like a car needs to create the energy that propels it our organs, muscles, and everything in between need to create energy to keep running.
This energy (called ATP) is made in a process called cellular respiration. There are multiple ways cellular respiration can occur, but the body’s preferred method is with the use of oxygen. In fact the aerobic (oxygen involved) method creates 15 times more energy than the other options.
Once oxygen is delivered to the cell’s mitochondria (an organ within the cell) it reacts with other nutrients from our diet to release energy. This is similar to how oxygen must be present when wood is burning in order for the reaction to occur. The wood then releases stored energy in the form of heat and light. Likewise, the mitochondria release the energy out into the cell. Then the individual cells use this energy (ATP) to run their specific functions. As this occurs throughout the entire body we fuel the countless processes going on at all times within us. We create so much energy throughout the day that if you weighed it it would be roughly equivalent to your own bodyweight.
The next time you take a deep breath take an extra second to marvel at the ability of your body to produce this much energy.