Difference between Breathing and Respiration

Breathing and respiration are two distinct processes that many people confuse as the same thing.  Both move Oxygen, both are required for human survival, and both rely on each other to function, but these are about the only similarities that these two processes have in common.

Breathing is a simple process that allows air to move in and out of our lungs.  It allows mammals to take in Oxygen, which is needed for survival, from the external environment.  Breathing also allows us to remove the waste product Carbon Dioxide from our body.  It is simply a two-step process of ventilation and gas exchange. 

Respiration, on the other hand, is much more complex.  Most simply, the process of respiration breaks down Oxygen into energy.  The cells require this energy to function, and mammals require cells to function to survive.  The formula that is most often cited for respiration is C6H12O6 + 6 O2 → 6 CO2 + 6 H2O + 36 ATP.  (Glucose plus Oxygen makes carbon dioxide plus water plus energy).  Again, this simplifies the process immensely.  Included in the process of respiration are other processes that break down or use chemicals in the glucose or energy.  This formula is also based on glucose, which could be replaced with carbohydrates, fats, or proteins.

Besides these differences in what happens during the process of each, there are other differences as well.  Breathing is a physical process while respiration is a chemical process.  Nothing is converted to a different form through breathing.  Breathing is also a voluntary action, while respiration is involuntary.  We can control the rate at which we breathe, but we have no control over the rate of respiration.  Breathing interacts with the external environment, while respiration does not.  Instead respiration takes place solely at the cellular level.

Although they are vastly different, both breathing and respiration depend on each other to continue their process.  The process of breathing gives respiration the energy it needs to complete its process.  Respiration produces the Carbon Dioxide that we breathe out, as well as energy that we use to continue breathing, completing the cycle between the two processes.  They work together since breathing brings the Oxygen into the lungs, where respiration then takes it to the cells.

When looking at all these differences, it soon becomes clear that breathing and respiration share very few similarities despite the fact that many people consider them the same.  The interesting thing is how different they are, yet how much they rely on each other to function.  It is another amazing accomplishment of the human body, in which every piece works together to keep us healthy.