What Is the Connection between the Muscular System and Respiratory System?

Erik J.J. Goserud

The muscular system and respiratory system are intertwined in a number of ways not commonly thought of. They are directly related in that an increase in muscular function is accompanied by an increase in respiratory rate and vice versa. Additionally, they rely on each other to perform their functions, which most people take for granted.

The human respiratory system, showing the trachea, bronchioles, and lungs.
The human respiratory system, showing the trachea, bronchioles, and lungs.

Picking up a glass of milk, walking a dog, or even brushing teeth are all actions most people don't consciously think about while performing them. There are a number of complex physiological mechanisms involved in performing these seemingly basic tasks, however. Two key players in physical motion are the muscular system and the respiratory system. The muscular system is involved primarily in movement, whereas the respiratory system allows for the gas exchange necessary to acquire nutrients from and release toxins to the environment.

A human respiratory system.
A human respiratory system.

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Gas exchange occurs through inhalation and exhalation, a motion dependent upon pressure changes in the lungs. This pressure alters with expansion and contraction controlled by the diaphragm muscle, located at the base of the lungs. The diaphragm is part of the muscular system, and the faster it contracts and relaxes, the greater the rate of respiration. There are a number of regulatory mechanisms involved in the involuntary changes in breathing frequency.

An illustration of the human muscular system.
An illustration of the human muscular system.

The muscles of the body may require different nutrient levels based on their individual needs. If a person is sprinting, for example, more oxygen and energy is needed than if that same person is sleeping. The body acquires many of these nutrients through the respiratory system's actions. If there is an increase in need for nutrients, a feedback loop eventually causes an increase in respiratory rate appropriate for the need.

The muscular system and respiratory system could not function without one another. The muscular system relies on the gas exchange made possible by the respiratory system, while the respiratory system could not move gases without the action of the diaphragm, a component of the muscular system. Their interconnectedness is therefore necessary for sustaining life. Most creatures of the universe that live off oxygen see a correlation between these two vital systems.

The diaphragm's main function is to control breathing.
The diaphragm's main function is to control breathing.

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Discussion Comments


@Viranty - Though it's not mentioned in the article, you are correct that the muscular and respiratory systems are very important when you're exercising. After working out for long periods of time, you involuntarily breath faster than before, because your body is trying to keep up with how much pressure you put on it. I also agree that we take both systems for granted. They're something we don't even think about unless we're in a Biology or science class.


I like how the article discusses the involuntary actions that we perform on a day to day basis, such as walking a dog or brushing your teeth. Not only are the reasons for this (stated in the article) true, but it's also because that's just a normal part of our daily routine, and it's also a part of us. Some other involuntary actions including waking up in the morning, sneezing, and even blinking.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the muscular and respiratory systems also related in a sense that what you do with your muscles also affects your breathing? In other words, if you did a one hour workout in the gym, wouldn't you be breathing heavily, and wouldn't your heart rate increase?

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