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10 Facts About the Lungs

By Leah DiPlacido, Ph.D. ; Updated August 14, 2017

Every time a breath is taken, air travels down through bronchial tubes and into the air sacs of the lungs. The cells of the air sac extract oxygen from the air and ultimately deliver it to the blood stream. Elastic fibers in the air sacs allow the lung to expand and collapse nearly 25,000 times per day, according to MedlinePlus. The lungs are an intricate network of air sacs, tubes and blood vessels that work together to provide necessary oxygen to the tissues throughout the body.

Volume of Air

The British Lung Foundation (BLF) reports that each day the lungs breathe in about 8,000 to 9,000 liters (about 2,100 to 2,400 gallons) of air.


Breathing is made possible by the flexing of a muscle called the diaphragm. National Geographic describes how the diaphragm, which is a sheet of muscles between the chest and the abdomen, contracts to breathe air into the lungs and relaxes to breathe air out of the lungs.


The air sacs of the lungs are technically called alveoli and are tiny spongy structures in the lung. According to National Geographic, there are approximately 600 million alveoli in the lungs, and there are enough in just one lung to cover the size of a tennis court if spread out.

The Brain

The brain directs the rate of inhalation and exhalation of the lungs. According to National Geographic, the brain can quickly sense the concentration of oxygen in the air, and increases or decreases the rate of respiration accordingly.


The American Lung Association (ALA) reports that lung cancer is the second-most commonly diagnosed cancer, but is still the leading cause of cancer death. National Geographic reports that lung cancer is diagnosed in 1.4 million people a year.

Breathing Rate

According to the BLF, an average adult breathes about 14 to 16 times per minute; this rate increases to over 60 times per minute during exercise.

Only the Lungs. . .

The lung is a very unique organ. According to the Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM), the lungs are the only organ in the body that can float. Also, the BLF reports that the lungs are the largest organ in the body and the only organ inside the body that is exposed to the outside.

Baby's Lungs

The mature lungs of a baby extract oxygen from the air much like adult lungs. However, a baby's lungs breathe at a much higher rate than adults. According to the SMM, babies breath about 40 to 50 times per minute.

Lung Disease and Death

Chronic respiratory (lung) diseases other than lung cancer are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Types of Lung Diseases

There is a range of diseases in addition to cancer that affects the lungs. MedlinePlus reports that these diseases include influenza, pneumonia, tuberculosis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), bronchitis and cystic fibrosis.

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