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Cellular respiration

Breaking down glucose (food) without oxygen to provide available energy for the cells. The glucose reacts with oxygen to produce energy in the form of ATP with carbon dioxide and water as waste products

Gaseous exchange

The exchange of gases between two areas eg the air in the alveoli of the lungs and the blood, the blood and the cells of the body

Breathing system

The system of organs including the nose, mouth, trachea, bronchi, bronchioles and alveoli through which air is taken into the body

Red blood cells

Carry oxygen in the blood. They are also known as erythrocytes.


The biochemical process by which the cells in the body releases energy


A list of often difficult or specialised words with their definitions.


A condition where the airways of the lungs narrow in response to an environmental or internal trigger making it difficult to breathe


The basic unit from which all living organisms are built up, consisting of a cell membrane surrounding cytoplasm and a nucleus.

What is the breathing system and why is it so important?

Cellular respiration takes place in all of the cells of your body, providing the energy they need. The breathing system moves air in and out of your body, delivering the oxygen needed by the cells for respiration and removing waste carbon dioxide. In conditions such as asthma the breathing system cannot work efficiently and scientists and doctors have to find ways to enable sufferers to breathe easily again.


From the moment you are born until the time when you die, you will breathe air in and out of your body. Why is breathing so important for life? The cells of your body need a constant supply of oxygen for cellular respiration to provide the energy needed for all of the reactions of the body. Poisonous carbon dioxide is a waste product of these reactions and it needs to be removed.

The breathing system is contained in the chest. Air is breathed into the lungs. Oxygen from the air moves into the red blood cells and carbon dioxide from the blood moves into the air by diffusion.This process is known as gaseous exchange.

The muscles between the ribs and the muscular diaphragm bring about changes in the volume of the chest which move the air in and out of the lungs.

Asthma is a common condition which affects the airways and makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. Other diseases of the lungs also affect gaseous exchange. Sometimes our own behaviour contributes to problems with the breathing system – for example smoking is known to increase the risk of many respiratory conditions. Different medicines enable doctors to cure or control many diseases of the breathing system.

The breathing system

How to use this site

There are a number of interactive features in this e-source:

  • A glossary of terms: any word with a glossary entry is highlighted like this. Moving the mouse over the highlighted word will show a definition of that word.
  • Quick questions: at the end of most pages or sections there is a question or set of quick questions to test your understanding.
  • Animations: most of the animations can be expanded to full screen size, ideal for showing on an interactive whiteboard. The animations will play all the way through or can be viewed one section at a time.
  • Downloads: Teachers can download individual diagrams, animations and other content from the Download Library area of the website. Terms and Conditions apply.