#34 Breath III

Anaerobic respiration versus aerobic respiration.

From James Nestor's Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.

Anaerobic energy is generated only with glucose (a simple sugar), and it's quicker and easier for our bodies to access. It's a kind of backup system and turbo boost when the body doesn't have enough oxygen. 

But it is inefficient and can be toxic, creating an excess of lactic acid. The nausea, muscle weakness, and sweating you experience after you've pushed it too hard at the gym is the feeling of anaerobic overload. This process explains why the first few minutes of an intense workout are often so miserable. Our lungs and respiratory system haven't caught up to supply the oxygen our bodies need, and so the body has to use anaerobic respiration. This also explains why, after we've warmed up, exercise feels easier. The body has switched from anaerobic to aerobic respiration.

These two energies are made in different muscle fibers throughout the body. Because anaerobic respiration is intended as a backup system, our bodies are built with fewer anaerobic muscle fibers. If we rely on these less-developed muscles too often, they eventually break down. More injuries occur during the post-New Year's rush to gyms than at any other time of the year, because too many people attempt to exercise far over their thresholds. Essentially, anaerobic energy is like a muscle car - it's fast and responsive to quick trips, but polluting and impractical for long hauls. 

This is why aerobic respiration is so important. Remember those cells that evolved to eat oxygen 2.5 billion years ago and kicked off an explosion of life? We've got 37 trillion of them in our bodies. When we run our cells aerobically with oxygen, we gain some 16 times more energy efficiency over anaerobic. The key for exercise, and for the rest of life, is to stay in that energy-efficient, clean-building, oxygen-eating aerobic zone for the vast majority of time during exercise and at all times during rest. 


How do we stay in the aerobic zone? Are we doing aerobic respiration naturally or how can we do more of it? I need to find out more.

Stay safe and see you tomorrow!


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