The structure of the lungs

The lungs

The respiratory system is responsible for the intake of oxygen from the air into the body and the removal of carbon dioxide from the body into the air. With oxygen being required as it keeps the body alive by fuelling aerobic energy production.

The respiratory system consists of the airways including the nose and mouth, respiratory muscles mainly the diaphragm and intercostals and the lungs which act as air reservoirs enabling the circulatory system to perform gaseous exchange. The main features of the lungs include being located in and taking up most of the space in the thorax, they are protected by the ribs or costals. A large sheet of muscle at the bottom of the ribcage known as the diaphragm separates the thorax from the abdomen and is the main muscle enabling inspiration. The primary function of the lungs is gaseous exchange, which means receiving vital oxygen and passing it through to the circulatory system, while ensuring potentially harmful waste products, such as carbon dioxide, go in the opposite direction and are expelled from the body. The size of an individual’s lungs are genetically pre-determined and associated with an individual’s height, lungs size does not change once an individual has fully developed into adulthood or as a consequence of cardiovascular training adaption.

The lungs are two sponge-like structures which work autonomously as breathing is controlled via the respiratory centre of the brain, however we are also able to consciously control breathing via diaphragmatic breathing techniques too, such as those in Pilates and Yoga, to destress and initiate the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system.

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The main structures of the lower respiratory tract include the trachea also known as (windpipe) which is cartilaginous tube allowing air to flow to and from the lungs. The trachea splits into a left and right bronchus which are the large branches reducing in size to the bronchioles. At the end of the bronchioles are the small air sacs where gaseous exchange occurs called alveoli sacs. These alveoli sacs are shaped like small bunches of grapes to maximise surface area which enables a large capillaries bed to run over and around them to allow for maximal gaseous exchange to occur.

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