Normal Breathing Rate

by Bronwyn Ellison

About Bronwyn Ellison

Bronwyn Ellison is a nurse in the San Francisco Bay Area. She writes extensively for online publications on health and lifestyle topics. She graduated with an associate's degree from Los Medanos College with the highest academic honors in her graduating class.


Breathing is a function absolutely vital to existence, yet which happens spontaneously at a regular rate without conscious effort. Breathing is a basic indication of life, and patterns of breathing can be used to provide information about a person’s health status. A normal breathing rate is fairly standard between individuals.

Normal Values

Healthy adults have an average breathing rate of 12 to 16 breaths per minute, when at rest. During exertion, this rate will increase as the body supplies its tissues with needed oxygen, and depends on the physical fitness of the athlete. For the average individual, normal breathing will roughly double during exertion. Children have varying respiratory rates depending on their age, beginning at 30 to 60 breaths per minute during infancy, and developing to an adult rate (12 to 16 breaths per minute) by age 18.

Breathing Control

Breathing is controlled by the medulla, which is housed in the brain stem. The respiratory center is a portion of the medulla. The normal, rhythmic breathing pattern most individuals have is due to the functioning of this structure. The respiratory center, together with other sensory organs in the body, receives information about the body’s oxygenation status and responds with the appropriate respiratory rate.

Oxygen Accommodation

Besides the breathing adjustments that occur during exercise or to accommodate other temporary oxygen needs, certain medical conditions can create a more permanent change in breathing rate. Individuals who are living with chronic or temporary medical issues may have a different normal breathing rate baseline.

Voluntary and Involuntary

The function of breathing is both voluntary and involuntary. A normal breathing rate continues whether we think about it or not, yet if we consciously think about it, we can hold our breath or control our rate of breathing. This is due to the fact that the respiratory muscles are skeletal muscle, and can be voluntarily controlled. However, the work of breathing is predominately under the control of the brain stem, as is evidenced by our inability to hold our breath indefinitely.

Psychological Factors

Our normal breathing rate can be altered by psychological influences. When our bodies encounter either a real or perceived threat, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. One of the resulting outcomes is an increase in respiratory rate and volume. Consequently, situations that are startling or frightening generally produce a subconscious increase in our rate of breathing.

Photo Credits:

  • thorax x-ray of the lungs image by JoLin from

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or