Why can we control our breath rate but not our heart rate?

Why can we control our breath rate but not our heart rate?

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Even though we cannot survive for more than few minutes if we stop breathing or if our heart stops, why is it so that our heart beat is controlled involuntarily while breathing can be voluntarily controlled to a certain extent. I just noticed that blinking of eyes also falls in this category; though we involuntarily blink and our eyelids close involuntarily in bright light, there is still voluntary modulation. What kind of evolutionary changes and natural selection could have led to these kind of voluntary modulations i.e. cortical control over these processes?

Heart Problems That Affect Your Breathing

You breathe in and out thousands of times a day and rarely give it a thought -- until it starts to feel hard. Breathing problems can happen for many reasons, like being out of shape, congestion, fever, or asthma. But in some cases, they’re a sign that something is wrong with your heart.

Whatever the reason, always take breathing issues seriously. Tell your doctor so they can help you figure out the cause. And if your problem is sudden and severe, you should get medical help right away.

How to Check Your Heart Rate

Checking your heart rate can be done anytime, anywhere and doesn’t cost a dime. The first step is to find your pulse. You can try the wrist, inside of the elbow, side of your neck, or top of your foot. These are usually the easiest places to feel the pulse. To get the most accurate reading, put your finger over your pulse and count the number of beats in 60 seconds. If you’re under 100, you’re probably good to go. If you’re higher than that, it’s time to lower your heart rate.

How Does Holding Your Breath Affect Heart Rate?

Holding your breath after breathing in causes the heart rate to slightly decrease as it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, explains Ricky Cheng for CurioCity. However without breathing in, holding your breath has very little effect on your heart rate.

The human heart is triggered by the parasympathetic nervous system. This system keeps a healthy human heart beating at a steady pace of 75 beats per minute on average. When you breathe in oxygen and then hold your breath, you stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system even more, causing the heart rate to decrease. This process is known as bradycardia, notes Cheng.

When you continue to hold your breath, organs expand with air and negative suction causes pressure on the thorax. This process slows down the blood flow getting to the heart. It takes longer for the heart to fill with blood, which in turn slows down the heart rate. People who are trying to hold their breath for extremely long periods of time, such as David Blaine's attempt at the world record, use this inhalation technique to slow their heart rate down, as a slower beating heart needs less oxygen, according to Cheng. This means you can hold your breath for longer.

How does heart rate relate to running?

When you perform aerobic exercises such as running or swimming, your heart works harder to pump more blood throughout your body, as means of fueling the muscles to drive you forward in your activity. As a result, heart rate goes up, and dramatically decreases once you finish the workout and are in resting state.

Having a low heart rate (which ranges anywhere from 40 to 60 bpm) is ideal, since it indicates that your heart is strong in pumping blood from the center of the body to the rest of it: the muscles, the tissues, the brain, the digestive system, and so forth. By having this low heart rate, you can be rest assured that you are not only healthy, but also in excellent athletic shape.

For more information on heart rate and running, check it out here:

6. You’re pregnant.

No, we don’t mean, “Surprise! Better rush out and get a pregnancy test because your racing heart is an early sign you’re pregnant.” A racing heart isn’t one of the usual first signs of pregnancy that people pick up on. We more so mean that if you do get pregnant, as your body adjusts over time, you might start noticing that an increased heart rate is part of the ride. Pregnancy is one heck of a roller coaster for your body, including your heart. In order to support the growing pregnancy, your blood volume goes up, and your heart has to work harder to pump out that extra blood, leading to a higher heart rate, Dr. Doshi says. This is completely normal, but if you’re concerned, check in with your ob-gyn just to make sure.

Respiration lab - Heart and breathing rate during activity

The body needs energy for all kind of activities. When the body is resting, it needs lower amount of energy. But the more demanding activities we are doing, the more energy is needed.

The main source of energy is carbohydrate and fat. The fat and carbohydrates are transformed by the ‘citric acid cycle’ into energy. The chemical energy is transferred to a substance that is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). The ATP is a small package of energy that is used by the cells. In aerobic respiration oxygen is needed. The waste products are water, carbon dioxide and heat.

The oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) is transported to/from the cells by the hemoglobin in the blood from/to the lungs. It is in the lungs, in the border between the capillaries and the alveoli, where the gases are exchanged by diffusion. The heart is the pump which makes the blood circulate in the body. And our breathing enables new air (with O2) to enter the lungs by inhaling and get rid of the old air (with CO2) by exhaling.

Therefore with more demanding exercises (eg. running) more energy is needed and therefore also more oxygen is needed (in the citric acid cycle) and more carbon dioxide is produced. Therefore the heart and breathing rate is becoming higher to enable the transportation of carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Normal resting heart rate for an untrained man is 70 - 75 bpm. And it's lower for people that are well trained, it can be low as 25 bpm. And for old people it is higher. Normal breathing rate/min is 13 - 16

With this lab I want to find out how activities affect the heart and breathing rate in humans.

Hypothesis:I think that the heart and breathing rate will increase during activity.

Our activity was to jump on the same place for 15s (seconds).

  1. I measured the testpersons heart rate by putting a finger on the neck and controlling how many times the heart beats in 15s.
  2. I measured the testpersons breathing rate by counting how many times they exhaled in 15s by holding a hand in front of the persons mouth (around 20 cm away).
  3. The testpersons jumped on the place for 15s.
  4. I measure the heart rate as in 1
  5. I measured the breathing rate as in 2.
  6. I multiplied all results that I measured in 15s by 4, so I got the results per minute (60s) instead.


The aim of this lab was to find out how activities affect the heart and breathing rate in a human. In my lab, I can easily see that the heart and breathing rate become higher during activity.

My data isn't 100% reliable because that measurement that I used wasn’t so good, eg. I measured for 15s and then I multiplied it by 4. If I would make a more accurate lab, I would measure in 60s. Or if even more correct, I could measure for 120s and divide by 2. It would be more accurate if I did like this, because when I measured for 15s and multiplied it by 4, it might be up to 2 heartbeats wrong when I started to measure and up to 2 heartbeats wrong in the end, then I multiply it by 4, so I could get up to 16 heartbeats wrong per minute. But if I measure for 60s, it could be up to 2 wrong in the beginning and up to 2 wrong in the end, which would mean that I would only get up to 4 heartbeats wrong per minute. Eg. if the accurate heartbeat/min is 70, it would be somewhere between 54 bpm and 86 bpm if I measured in 15s, if I measured in 60s it would be somewhere between 66bpm and 74bpm (which is much more reliable).
If I would do the lab even more accurate, I could use a professional pulse and breathing meter and have a treadmill for the testpersons to run on, so the testpersons would make exact the same activity.

In this lab the resting heart rate and the resting breathing rate were much higher than normal. The reason for this was probably that I didn’t measured the real resting rate for pulse and breathing. The persons was probably not relaxed. So in next lab I would make sure that the persons are relaxing.

It would be interesting to measure the heart and breathing rate on a smoker or a person that has certain health problems as eg. asthma, or a person that lives in a place where the environment is polluted, and how they respond to exercise, and compare to my results.

In these persons, the gas exchange is slower, and smoking also has that negative effect that the hemoglobin can bind less oxygen because of it is occupied of carbon monoxide (CO). So if I would make a new study with persons in this group, I would probably get the results that their heart will beat faster and they will have much harder to make exercices.

According to the literature obesity, alcohol and drugs can affect a person’s heart and breathing rate. For example alcohol depresses both heart and breathing rate, which makes it harder to make exercices. Some drugs (medicines) can change the heart rate or make it easier to breath, eg. asthma drugs (eg. ventolin) make the muscles around the bronchi relax so that the tubes open and it is easier to breathe. Other drugs as nitroglycerine is used in angina pectoris and it makes the arteries around the heart becoming broader and let more blood pass to the heart and lower the heart rate.

When we don’t use the energy sources (fat, carbohydrates and proteins) that we eat, they get stored as glycogen and fat. If there is too big excess of energy sources, one become fat. Fat people have more mass and weighs more than not fat people, so they also need more energy and oxygen to do activities. Too much fat in the diet stops muscle cells to take up glucose from the blood and makes the cells to slow down the release of needed energy.

Panic attacks

If you feel as if your heart is racing like it&aposs going to beat out of your chest, it could be a panic attack, Dr. Doshi says. Shaking, sweats, and an overwhelming feeling of impending doom are also common symptoms. Panic attacks are not dangerous, though they can feel absolutely terrifying. “Sometimes you may have an arrhythmia [an abnormal heart rhythm caused by a disruption in the heart&aposs electrical signaling] that’s actually causing the panic attacks, so see a doctor to rule out something more serious," Dr. Doshi adds. Otherwise, recurring panic attacks can be treated with talk therapy to identify triggers and anti-anxiety medications.

How to get your heart rate up

It’s essential that some of your exercise make your heart beat faster than it does when you’re resting.

BY Kellie Bramlet Blackburn

Exercise is an important part of disease prevention – and that includes cancer prevention, too. But not all exercise is created equal. It’s essential that some of your exercise make your heart beat faster than it does when you’re resting.

Getting your heart to beat faster trains your body to move oxygen and blood to your muscles more efficiently, helps you burn more calories and lowers your cholesterol. All of this can help you stay healthy and lower your cancer risk.

According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week can help lower your cancer risk. It’s the vigorous exercises that can help you get your heart rate up.

How to measure your heart rate

So, how do you determine your heart rate? One of the easiest ways to measure your heart rate is with a monitor, says Whittney Thoman, exercise physiologist at MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. This is typically a watch or a strap that goes around your arm or chest that syncs with a watch or another device. Many wearable fitness trackers now include heart rate monitors.

If you don’t have a heart rate monitor you can check your heart rate using your pulse. To find your pulse, use two fingers (your middle and your index fingers) to find your carotid artery, just below your esophagus or throat. Then, count the beats you feel for 10 seconds. Multiply that number by six. That’s roughly the number your heart beats per minute.

Understanding your heart rate

Now that you know how to measure your heart rate, you can determine:

  • Active heart rate: how fast your heart beats when you’re active or exercising
  • Resting heart rate: how fast your heart beats when you’re resting or relaxing
  • Maximum heart rate: the highest rate your heart can obtain during activity. To find your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 40 years old, subtract 40 from 220 to get a maximum heart rate of 175. This is the maximum number of beats your heart is capable of per minute, but you should not try to exercise to this level.

Check your pulse or your heart rate monitor while you’re resting and then again while you’re exercising to compare your resting heart rate to your active heart rate.

If you’re working at 50 to 70% of your maximum heart rate, then that exercise is considered moderate. If you’re working at 70 to 85% of your heart rate then its vigorous exercise. If your heart is working harder than that (above 85%) it could be dangerous, so be sure to back off or consult your doctor.

If you’re worried about an increased heart rate causing other health problems or have had heart problems in the past, talk to your doctor before you begin exercising at a higher intensity.

Ways to get your heart rate up

Now that you know how to determine your heart rate, the next step is to find exercises that will help boost it to improve your health. Here are a few ways to get your heart rate up.

Breathing And Your Brain: Five Reasons To Grab The Controls

The advice to “just breathe” when you’re stressed may be a cliché of Godzilla-sized proportions, but that doesn't make it untrue. The substance behind the saying is research-tested—and not only to manage stress.

Breathing is an unusual bodily function in that it is both involuntary and voluntary. Other major functions—take digestion and blood flow, for example—occur without conscious influence, and for the most part we couldn’t influence them if we tried. They are involuntarily managed in the vast processing system of the unconscious mind.

Breathing is also managed in the unconscious, but at any moment we can grab the controls and consciously change how we breathe. We can make our breathing shallow or deep, fast or slow, or we can choose to stop breathing altogether (until we pass out and the unconscious takes over again).

Since we are breathing all the time, the oddness of this dual-control system doesn’t usually dawn on us—but it’s this control flexibility that makes breathing especially worthy of attention. We can change how we breathe, and to an extent change how breathing affects our bodies.

Controlled breathing, also known as “paced respiration,” “diaphragmatic breathing” and “deep breathing,” has long been a feature of Eastern health practices. It became more visible in the West after Dr. Herbert Benson’s book, “The Relaxation Response”, hit shelves in the mid 1970s. Whatever you choose to call controlled breathing, the dynamic at work is full oxygen exchange: more oxygen enters the body and more carbon dioxide exits.

The basic mechanics of controlled breathing differ a bit depending on who is describing them, but they usually include three parts: (1) inhaling deeply through the nose for a count of five or so, making sure that the abdomen expands, (2) holding the breath for a moment, and (3) exhaling completely through the mouth for a count longer than the inhalation.

Benson argued that controlling breathing in this way triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to come online and counter our sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response to daily stresses. In effect, the relaxation response is the anti-fight or flight response. Subsequent research has backed up and expanded Benson’s argument.

What follows are five science-based reasons for paying more attention to an ability most of us aren't maximizing.

This is the most direct application of controlled breathing and the one we hear about most. Our brains are routinely on high alert for threats in our environment—we’re wired to react defensively to anything that hints of imperiling us physically or psychologically.

Controlled breathing may be the most potent tool we have to prevent our brains from keeping us in a state of stress, and preventing subsequent damage caused by high stress levels. The relaxation response is a built-in way to keep stress in check.

2. Managing Anxiety.

The means by which controlled breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system is linked to stimulation of the vagus nerve—a nerve running from the base of the brain to the abdomen, responsible for mediating nervous system responses and lowering heart rate, among other things.

The vagus nerve releases a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine that catalyzes increased focus and calmness. A direct benefit of more acetylcholine is a decrease in feelings of anxiety. Stimulating the vagus nerve may also play a role in treating depression, even in people who are resistant to anti-depressant medications.

3. Lowering Blood Pressure and Heart Rate.

Research suggests that when practiced consistently, controlled breathing will result in lower blood pressure and heart rate, which in turn results in less wear and tear on blood vessels. As described above, the vagus nerve plays a key role in this response.

Over time, using controlled breathing to lower blood pressure and heart rate can help prevent stroke and lower risk of cerebral aneurysm.

4. Sparking Brain Growth.

One of the more intriguing research developments involving controlled breathing is that when it’s used to facilitate meditation, the result can be an actual increase in brain size. Specifically, the brain experiences growth in areas associated with attention and processing of sensory input.

The effect seems to be more noticeable in older people, which is especially good news because it’s the reverse of what typically happens as we age—gray matter usually becomes thinner. The result is consistent with other research showing an increase in thickness of music areas of the brain in musicians and visual-motor areas in the brains of jugglers. As in those cases, the key is consistent practice over time.

5. Changing Gene Expression.

Another unexpected research finding is that controlled breathing can alter the expression of genes involved in immune function, energy metabolism and insulin secretion. The study uncovering this finding was co-authored by none other than Herbert Benson himself, some 40 years after he brought controlled breathing into the spotlight with his book.

And this isn’t the first study linking controlled breathing to changes in genetic expression. Benson was also involved in a 2008 study indicating that long-term practice of the relaxation response results in changes to the expression of genes associated with how the body reacts to stress.

You can find me on Twitter @neuronarrative and at my website, The Daily Brain.