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What’s A Good Breathing Rate?

Average Breathing Rates By Age, Activity Level, and Lung Health

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While athletes are often attuned to heart rate zones and heart rate metrics such as their resting heart rate, max heart rate, and potentially even heart rate variability (HRV), there is little to no discussion about breathing rate.

Does breathing rate matter

What is a good breathing rate? What is a good breathing rate while exercising and during sleep? Does the average breathing rate differ by sex and age?

In this guide to average breathing rates, we will discuss factors that affect average breathing rates, and what is considered a good breathing rate by age.

Let’s dive in! 

A person with their hands on their chest checking their breathing rate.

What Is a Good Breathing Rate By Age?

“A ‘normal’ or ‘good breathing rate,’ also known as respiratory rate, typically falls in the range of 12 to 18 breaths per minute for adults at rest,” advises Dr. Stacie Barber, a Physical Therapist, Strength Coach, and Hyperice Performance Advisor.

”Age, BMI, fitness level, and overall health can influence your respiratory rate.”1Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Vital Signs | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10881-vital-signs

‌The following table shows the normal breathing rate by age, according to the New York State Health Department.2Pediatric Respiratory Rates Age Rate (breaths per minute). (n.d.). https://www.health.ny.gov/professionals/ems/pdf/assmttools.pdf

AgeBreaths per minute
Birth to 1 year old30–60
1–3 years old24–40
3–6 years old22–34
6–12 years old18–30
12–18 years old12–16
Over 18 years old12-20

As can be seen, infants and young children have much higher resting respiration rates. 

Normal breathing rates during rest decrease through early childhood and adolescence, reaching an average of 12 to 20 breaths per minute for most adults over 18 years of age.3Chourpiliadis, C., & Bhardwaj, A. (2022, September 12). Physiology, Respiratory Rate. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537306/

Two people with their hands on their knees, breathing hard after working out.

Am I Breathing Too Fast When I Work Out?

It is important to keep in mind that the “normal breathing rates“ above refer to your breathing rate at rest, not exercise.

As you stress your body with physical activity, the demand for oxygen by both the muscles and heart increases, which causes an increase in respiration rate in order to take in more oxygen.

Additionally, you breathe faster during exercise to exhale carbon dioxide, which is a waste product that accumulates as a metabolic byproduct of energy production in the muscle cells, particularly during vigorous exercise.

“Our breathing rate increases from approximately 15 times a minute to 40-60 times a minute during strenuous cardiovascular exercise,” suggests Dr. Barber. 4National Library of Medicine. (2016). Your lungs and exercise. Breathe12(1), 97–100. https://doi.org/10.1183/20734735.elf121

“This is a natural response to the increased demand for oxygen by your muscles as they work harder. During exercise, your body needs to deliver more oxygen to the muscles to support energy production, and this is achieved by increasing your breathing rate and depth.”

“The increased respiratory rate helps to oxygenate your blood, which is then pumped to the working muscles by your heart.”

Dr. Barber explains that the elevated breathing rate during exercise allows for efficient gas exchange, with oxygen being brought into the body when you inhale and carbon dioxide being expelled when you exhale. 

“[Breathing faster] helps maintain the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your bloodstream, which is crucial for sustaining physical activity,” notes Dr. Barber.

”The extent of the increase in breathing rate during exercise can vary depending on the intensity and duration of the activity, your fitness level, and other individual factors.”

A person taking a deep breath.

What Factors Influence Average Breathing Rates?

Research suggests that there are several factors that can impact your breathing rate and depth (how deeply you breathe). 

The primary factors that affect your average breathing rate per minute include the following:

#1: Physical Activity

As discussed, exercise either with planned workouts or physical activity in your daily life increases your respiration rate because more oxygen is needed by the heart and muscles and carbon dioxide build-up needs to be released with exhalations.

#2: Emotional State

Certain emotional states, particularly stress, anxiety, but also excitement, can increase respiration rate and decrease respiration depth. 

If you have ever been anxious or experiencing a mild panic attack, you probably noticed that you were nearly hyperventilating, taking short, rapid, shallow breaths.

Note that if you are experiencing chronic or acute stress or panic, you should work with a therapist or consult your doctor for some support. 

A person taking a deep breath.

#3: Health Conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), allergies, obesity, emphysema, and respiratory infections, can increase your breathing rate.

Fevers, heat illnesses like heat exhaustion, and heart conditions can also increase your breathing rate while traumatic head injuries, drug overdoses, and certain neurological conditions can decrease respiration rates.

Dr. Barber says the overall condition of your lungs, such as your lung capacity and efficiency, will also impact your respiration rate at rest and during exercise.

#4: Altitude

The oxygen concentration in the atmospheric air at altitude is less than it is at sea level or lower levels of elevation. 

This can cause an increase in normal breathing rates because you have to breathe more times per minute to meet the same oxygen intake as you would at lower altitudes where the oxygen concentration in the air is greater. 

Over time, the body will acclimate to altitude and the breathing rate will likely return closer to a normal breathing rate for women or men of your age group.

However, this process can take some time, particularly in elderly individuals and those with iron deficiency anemia or blood disorders that reduce red blood cell count.

A person trying to breath after exercise with their hand on a wall.

#5: Temperature

“Extreme cold or hot temperatures can affect your breathing,” says Dr. Barber. “Cold air may cause shallow breathing, while heat can lead to increased respiratory rate.”

#6: Medications

Certain medications can affect your respiratory rate or cause side effects related to breathing.

#7: Fitness Level

As can likely be surmised, individuals who are aerobically trained and have a high level of cardiorespiratory fitness will have a more efficient respiratory system and cardiovascular system.5Cheng, Y. J. (2003). Effects of physical activity on exercise tests and respiratory function. British Journal of Sports Medicine37(6), 521–528. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.37.6.521

‌This, in turn, can decrease their average breathing rate during sleep, everyday activities, and exercise relative to the average breathing rate for men or women of their age group who are less physically fit.

A person lying down on the floor, breathing.

#8: Pregnancy

Pregnancy can increase the average resting breathing rate for women due to both the increased oxygen needs for the growing fetus as well as the reduced lung capacity in the later stages of pregnancy when the belly can somewhat obstruct the ability for the lungs to fully expand. 

#9: Age

Infants and older adults may have higher normal resting breathing rates than young adults.

“Understanding these factors and how they affect your breathing can help you manage your respiratory health and respond appropriately to different situations,” suggests Dr. Barber.

“Remember that it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional or specialist if you have respiratory conditions or concerns about your breathing. They can provide tailored recommendations and treatment plans to improve your respiratory health.”

Nasal breathing.

Tips for How to Decrease Your Breathing Rate

If you find that your breathing rate is faster than the average breathing rate for women or men of your age and fitness level, there are a few things you can do to potentially slow down your breathing rate.

Breathing is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, so it isn’t something that you have to consciously control at all times.

However, there are a few things you can do to improve your lung capacity and affect other aspects of your life that might be contributing to rapid breathing rates.

Here are a few tips to decrease your breathing rate, either in the short term if you are experiencing rapid breathing or in the long term by improving the mechanics of your breathing and your lung capacity:

#1: Exercise Regularly 

Getting consistent aerobic exercise increases your lung capacity and strengthens the heart.

Chronic aerobic training also improves the efficiency of the cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to the tissues of your body, particularly your muscles, to extract and use this oxygen.

All of these factors will help decrease your breathing rate during exercise and rest.

A person doing diaphragmatic breathing.

#2: Learn How to Breathe During Exercise 

Learning how to breathe properly during exercise can slow down your breathing while running or working out.

Many people breathe through their mouths, but there are benefits of nose vs mouth breathing while running.

Depending on the intensity of your workout, try switching to nasal breathing (especially during easy runs). Try to breathe steadily, deeply, and calmly without holding your breath or taking shallow, rapid chest breaths.

#3: Try Breathwork

Breathwork exercises like boxed breathing, diaphragmatic breathing, and alternate nostril breathing involve deliberate focus and attention on controlling your breath and using certain breathing patterns during the breathwork exercise.

Breathwork techniques have been shown to confer many benefits, such as decreasing anxiety, increasing vagal nerve tone, improving HRV, and activating the parasympathetic nervous system.6American Lung Association. (2021). Breathing Exercises | American Lung Association. Www.lung.org. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/wellness/breathing-exercises

A person doing diaphragmatic breathing.

‌Particularly if you are experiencing an acute bout of rapid breathing from stress or anxiety, implementing a breathwork exercise can help you calm down your fight-or-flight response and activate your parasympathetic nervous system to slow your breathing rate.

Additionally, according to the Cleveland Clinic,7Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Diaphragmatic breathing exercises & techniques. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9445-diaphragmatic-breathing diaphragmatic breathing training can also increase the amount of oxygen in your blood and enhance the removal of carbon dioxide, which is a metabolic waste product that we eliminate from the body during exhalation.

Again, these particular diaphragmatic breathing benefits can improve exercise performance because greater oxygenation will allow your muscles to have access to more oxygen at higher levels of intensity.  

This would allow you to continue exercising aerobically without crossing over your anaerobic threshold, after which significant fatigue and metabolic byproducts accumulate.

To this end, studies show that the relative concentration of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream is a large determiner of your breathing rate.8Stanley, N. N., Cunningham, E. L., Altose, M. D., Kelsen, S. G., Levinson, R. S., & Cherniack, N. S. (1975). Evaluation of breath holding in hypercapnia as a simple clinical test of respiratory chemosensitivity. Thorax30(3), 337–343. https://doi.org/10.1136/thx.30.3.337

‌If you can help expel carbon dioxide more efficiently by improving diaphragm strength and breathing mechanics via diaphragmatic breathing exercises, you can theoretically breathe more slowly and comfortably at higher levels of physical exertion.

To get started with some easy breathwork exercises for beginners, check out our guide to diaphragmatic breathing here.

A person smiling and taking a breath.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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