Difference Between Breathing and Respiration

Main Difference – Breathing vs Respiration

Simple organic compounds like glucose are oxidized by living cells in order to obtain energy. This process requires oxygen gas and carbon dioxide is released during the process as a waste. Gas exchange is the process where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged in the respiratory membrane. Inhalation takes oxygen-rich air into lungs and exhalation expels carbon dioxide-rich air to the atmosphere. The main difference between breathing and respiration is that breathing is a mechanical process in which fresh air is sent to the lungs while removing carbon dioxide from the body by muscular movement whereas respiration is a cellular process in which simple organic compounds are oxidized in order to liberate chemical energy in the form of ATP.

This article explores,

1. What is Breathing
      – Definition, Process, Function
2. What is Respiration
      – Definition, Process, Function
3. What is the difference between Breathing and Respiration

Difference Between Breathing and Respiration - Comparison Summary


What is Breathing

Breathing is the physical process which moves air in and out of the lungs. It allows oxygen to move into the body through lungs of mammals, while carbon dioxide moves out. Breathing also occurs in gills of fish and spiracles in arthropods. Breathing in lungs is also called pulmonary ventilation which occurs by inhalation (breathing in) and exhalation (breathing out). Both inhalation and exhalation are regulated by the action of the diaphragm.


During inhalation, diaphragm contracts and moves downward, increasing the space in the chest cavity. The intercostal muscles between ribs also contract, pulling the rib cage upwards and outwards. The two processes expand the lungs, sucking air either through nose or mouth until the alveoli. The alveoli are air sacs with thin walls which facilitate the gas exchange between alveoli and blood capillaries. The oxygen-transport metalloproteins like hemoglobin are involved in the passage of oxygen through the blood into metabolizing tissues, where oxygen is utilized for the cellular respiration.


During respiration, carbon dioxide is produced as waste and is removed from the body. Carbon dioxide is transported to lungs by dissolving it in the blood plasma. Some of the carbon dioxide is transported by hemoglobin as well. When the diaphragm relaxes and moves upwards, the intercostal muscles also relaxes, reducing the space in the chest cavity. As the cavity contracts, carbon dioxide- rich air is forced out from the lungs in the process called exhalation.

Difference Between Breathing and Respiration

Figure 1: Inhalation and Exhalation

What is Respiration

Respiration is a biochemical process which oxidizes simple organic compounds in order to obtain energy. Autotrophs like plants and algae produce simple organic compounds like glucose by photosynthesis. Heterotrophs utilize these organic compounds for their energy requirements. Respiration is an exergonic process. In eukaryotes, respiration occurs in the cytosol and in the mitochondria. It occurs in three phases: glycolysis, citric acid cycle, and oxidative phosphorylation. During glycolysis, glucose is broken down into two pyruvic molecules in the cytosol. Pyruvic acid is further oxidized into carbon dioxide and water, releasing an acetyl-CoA, which is then transported into mitochondria. This acetyl-CoA enters the citric acid cycle and sequentially broken down by releasing carbon dioxide and electrons, which is added to acceptor molecules. The citric acid cycle is also called the Krebs cycle and occurs in the mitochondrial matrix. During oxidative phosphorylation, the acceptor molecules drop electrons off, pumping hydrogen ions in order to create a gradient pressure. The enzyme, ATP synthase, which is situated on the mitochondrial membrane, generates 32 ATP molecules per glucose molecule, using the gradient pressure of hydrogen ions. In prokaryotes, respiration occurs in the cytosol. The relationship between autotrophs and the respiration in heterotrophs is shown in figure 2.

Main Difference - Breathing vs Respiration

Figure 2: Autotrophs and heterotrophs

Difference Between Breathing and Respiration


Breathing: Breathing is a mechanical process in which fresh air is sent to the lungs while removing carbon dioxide from the body by muscular movement.

Respiration: Respiration is a cellular process in which simple organic compounds like glucose are oxidized in order to liberate chemical energy in the form of ATP.

Type of Process

Breathing: Breathing is a physical process.

Respiration: Respiration is a biochemical process.


Breathing: Breathing provides oxygen for respiration while removing carbon dioxide.

Respiration: Energy is released in the form of ATP during respiration.


Breathing: Breathing can be observed in animals and some of the arthropods.

Respiration: Respiration can be observed in all living organisms on earth.


Breathing: Breathing occurs by diffusion.

Respiration: Respiration occurs by oxidation.

Voluntary/Involuntary Action

Breathing: Breathing is a voluntary action.

Respiration: Respiration is an involuntary action.

Intracellular/Extracellular Process

Breathing: Breathing is an extracellular process.

Respiration: Respiration is an intracellular process.


Breathing: Breathing occurs through inhalation followed by exhalation.

Respiration: Respiration occurs through glycolysis followed by Krebs cycle.


Breathing: Breathing uses ATP.

Respiration: Respiration releases ATP.


Breathing: Breathing is regulated by the diaphragm.

Respiration: Respiration is regulated by numerous enzymes.


Breathing and respiration are two processes involved in the production of cellular energy. Breathing is a physiological process in which specialized organs like lungs, gill, and spiracles are involved. It promotes the gas exchange by taking in and releasing air. Oxygen is taken into the blood while carbon dioxide is removed from the blood. Oxygen and carbon dioxide are the two gasses involved in the respiration. Respiration is a biochemical process, which oxidizes simple organic compounds like glucose, producing energy in the form of ATP. Oxygen is required by the respiration, while carbon dioxide is produced as a waste. However, the main difference between breathing and respiration is in the mechanisms and functions of each process in an organism.

1. “What Happens When You Breathe?” National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 17 July 2012. Web. 28 May 2017. </
2. “Respiratory System, Respiration, Process of Breathing.” DrStandley.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 May 2017. </>

Image Courtesy:
1.”Breathing cycle” by Siyavula Education via
2. “Auto-and heterotrophs” By Derivative by Mikael Häggström, using originals by Laghi l, BorgQueen, Benjah-bmm27, Rkitko, Bobisbob, Jacek FH, Laghi L and Jynto – Images used:GlucoseAnimalsCarbon dioxideGlucose (open form)OxygenPlantsFungiStarchWaterHumanFile:Upper body front.png via

About the Author: Lakna

Lakna, a graduate in Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, is a Molecular Biologist and has a broad and keen interest in the discovery of nature related things

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