Content by: Deanna Niceski - Accredited Exercise Physiologist
“Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe with no air?”
It will take your breath away. Knowing all the links, structures and organisms it takes for us to do something as natural and instinctive as breathing. Trees, plants, our bodies physiology, diatoms and earth’s atmosphere, it’s all connected in allowing us to thrive and survive.
Like every word in the English language, it originates from a Greek word, ‘oxys’. It’s number 8 on the periodic table and contains two O atoms. This tasteless, colourless and odourless gas is the essence of our life and as far as we know, Earth is the only planet that has this element within its atmosphere. That’s one special ingredient.
In the documentary series Our Strange Rock hosted by Will Smith, they talk about the incredible link and importance a Desert, the Amazon Basin, a River in the Sky and our big, blue ocean has with keeping us alive. They describe tiny organisms as the “secret to the earths oxygen supply” and these microscopic bacteria are called Diatoms. Feeding off nutrients from different sources, diatoms reproduce at an increased rate generating oxygen through photosynthesis. Invisible to the naked eye, it’s amazing such a small structure has such a large impact on our survival. If you have a spare hour, I recommend grabbing some popcorn, it’s worth the watch.
Besides osmosis, those science and biology classes through school also taught us that plants and trees use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into oxygen and then like a natural flow, humans and animals convert oxygen back into carbon dioxide. Our lungs carry out this exchange and when we take that breath in, the O2 gas goes on an important adventure throughout our body.
“You breathe oxygen? We have so much in common.”
We take it for granted, the simple act of breathing so let me enlighten you on why it’s essential for our wellbeing. Whether you are a mouth breather or suck up oxygen through your nose it travels the same way, passing through our sinuses first which help regulate the temperature and humidity of the air we have just breathed in. Our windpipe (trachea) connects to our lungs through our bronchial tubes and then within each lung there are more branches consisting of spongey sacs called alveoli. These pouches contain tiny blood vessels called pulmonary capillaries and this is where the magic happens. Blood combines with oxygen and “drops off” carbon dioxide. The oxygen-rich blood then travels through our pulmonary vein and into our heart to be pumped through our body to working muscles. That “drop off” of carbon dioxide makes its way into our alveoli and we breathe it out.
Oxygen-rich blood is needed for energy and growth. It affects everything in our body, cells, muscles, nerves, circulation and lymph, you name it. It’s vital for our energy station cells, mitochondria, as they convert the O2 into power so we can move and function. There are so many incredible, tiny details and processes that depend on oxygen so savour every breath you take.