Skip to Content

Why Oxygen is Important: The Lifesaver We Breathe

Oxygen is a vital element for life as we know it. It is crucial in various biological and chemical processes that sustain our existence. Without oxygen, Earth’s living organisms, including humans, would be unable to survive.

Daily, we rely on oxygen to maintain our body’s functions. We breathe in oxygen from the air, then transported to our cells, tissues, and organs through the bloodstream. Oxygen is essential for cellular respiration, a process that produces energy in the form of ATP from glucose and other nutrients. This energy is necessary for various activities and functions, such as muscle contraction, brain activity, and maintaining body temperature. Oxygen is also generated by plants during photosynthesis, an essential process for their growth and the production of our food sources.

Furthermore, oxygen is crucial in maintaining the balance of Earth’s ecosystems. The presence of oxygen supports aerobic life in water bodies, including rivers, lakes, and oceans, where living organisms rely on dissolved oxygen for survival. Earth provides the ideal environment for diverse species and ecosystems to thrive, thanks to oxygen.

The Role of Oxygen in Life

We all know that oxygen is essential to life, but do we fully understand its role in our daily lives? In this section, we’ll take a closer look at the importance of oxygen by examining its roles in cellular respiration and energy production.

Cellular Respiration

One of the most critical functions of oxygen is its role in cellular respiration, a process that occurs within the mitochondria of our cells. In cellular respiration, oxygen helps break down sugars, fats, and proteins, transforming these materials into energy our bodies can use to function efficiently. You can learn more about this process in this Socratic article.

Throughout this crucial process, oxygen enables our cells to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy-rich molecule that powers virtually all of our cellular activities. This is especially true for our brain cells, which depend on high and steady production of ATP to remain functional, as outlined in this Anatomy & Physiology resource.

Energy Production

Without oxygen, our bodies would fail to produce enough energy to maintain the countless biochemical reactions that keep us alive. As mentioned earlier, oxygen plays a vital role in these reactions, acting as a final electron acceptor during cellular respiration.

To put it simply, oxygen is essential in producing energy. When we breathe in oxygen, our cells use it to convert food into energy as ATP. This energy is vital for fueling our bodies’ growth, development, and overall maintenance.

Oxygen’s role in energy production is so vital that our cells have developed incredibly efficient mechanisms to obtain it from the air we breathe, composed of around 20% oxygen. You can find more details about oxygen’s unique properties and importance in life in this Center for Science Education overview.

Oxygen in the Environment

As we explore the importance of oxygen, let’s take a closer look at its presence in our environment. In this section, we’ll focus on the role of oxygen in the atmosphere and the oxygen cycle. These two aspects are crucial to maintaining life on Earth as we know it.


Our atmosphere is composed of various gases, with oxygen being one of the most vital for life. We, along with many other living organisms, depend on oxygen for respiration, an essential process for generating energy. In the air we breathe, oxygen makes up approximately 21% of its composition, creating a suitable environment for life to thrive (The Science of Air).

Oxygen is produced during photosynthesis, a process by plants and certain microbes. These organisms convert carbon dioxide and water into glucose, an energy-rich substance, and release oxygen as a byproduct. This exchange maintains a balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, resulting in a stable environment (Center for Science Education).

Oxygen Cycle

The oxygen cycle is a natural process that ensures oxygen’s continuous circulation and distribution in our environment. One key component of this cycle is photosynthesis, which we’ve already mentioned. As plants and some microbes produce oxygen, it is utilized by animals that, in turn, release carbon dioxide through respiration.

Another important aspect of the oxygen cycle is the water dissolution process. Although water molecules consist of oxygen atoms, these are not sufficient for aquatic organisms. Oxygen from the atmosphere enters water bodies at the surface and can dissolve in the water, providing a small but vital amount of oxygen for the survival of aquatic life (U.S. Geological Survey).

In summary, oxygen in the environment plays a crucial role in sustaining life on Earth. Through its role in the atmosphere and the oxygen cycle, this essential element supports the respiration of living beings, ultimately promoting a diverse and thriving ecosystem for all.

Oxygen in Medicine and Healthcare

Oxygen is crucial in maintaining life, and its importance in medicine and healthcare cannot be overstressed. This section will discuss how oxygen is used in medicine and healthcare, focusing on oxygen therapy and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Oxygen Therapy

Oxygen therapy plays a vital role in the healthcare system. We utilize it to treat various respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19, pneumonia, and chronic lung diseases. Oxygen is essential not only for patients struggling with these conditions but also for newborns, pregnant women, and the elderly, who often require oxygen therapy regularly.

Administering additional oxygen increases the oxygen saturation levels in the blood, assisting patients in maintaining normal bodily functions. Supplemental oxygen is considered a medication and should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional. In some cases, oxygen misuse can lead to toxicity or poisoning.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is another form of oxygen treatment wherein patients breathe pure oxygen in a pressurized room or chamber. This method allows the lungs to absorb more oxygen, promoting healing and fighting infection. HBOT is particularly effective in treating chronic wounds, carbon monoxide poisoning, and decompression sickness (also known as ‘the bends’).

During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the increased oxygen levels in the blood can stimulate the release of growth factors and stem cells, essential in the healing process.

In conclusion, oxygen is indispensable in medicine and healthcare, addressing various medical conditions and improving patients’ quality of life. Whether administered through oxygen therapy or hyperbaric oxygen therapy, paying attention to the prescribed guidelines and consulting medical professionals to ensure this essential element’s safe and effective use is crucial.

Importance in Water and Aquatic Life

As we explore the significance of oxygen, it’s vital to delve into its role in water and aquatic life. Oxygen plays a pivotal part in the health and well-being of aquatic ecosystems, from the tiniest microorganisms to the largest marine creatures.

Oxygen Levels in Water

Water receives oxygen from the atmosphere and aquatic plants. The dissolved oxygen level in water varies depending on factors such as water temperature and movement. For instance, running water, as seen in swift-moving streams, dissolves more oxygen than still water in ponds or lakes (US EPA). Moreover, warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen than colder water (U.S. Geological Survey).

Impact on Marine Ecosystems

Oxygen is critical for the growth and survival of aquatic plants and animals, as they rely on it for respiration. Low oxygen levels in water can lead to difficulties for marine ecosystems, especially during warmer seasons when dissolved oxygen concentrations are at a seasonal low (U.S. Geological Survey). Furthermore, bacteria require oxygen to break down dead plant material, contributing to a balanced ecosystem (Aquascape).

It is also worth mentioning that certain fish species, such as salmon, thrive in oxygen-rich water, which is essential for their health and survival (US EPA). Maintaining adequate oxygen levels in water supports the delicate balance of aquatic ecosystems, ensuring their overall health and sustainability.

Oxygen in Human Performance and Athletic Training

As we delve into the importance of oxygen in human performance and athletic training, it’s crucial to understand its role in our bodies, particularly regarding exercise and fitness. Oxygen is a critical component that plays a significant part in our aerobic fitness and high-altitude training.

Aerobic Fitness

In aerobic fitness, maximal oxygen uptake, or VO2 Max, is an essential factor to consider. VO2 Max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen that our bodies can utilize during intense exercise, and it’s a strong indicator of our aerobic capacity. It’s generally measured in milliliters of oxygen consumed per minute and adjusted for body weight in kilograms: ml/kg/min (UC Davis Sports Medicine).

Our muscles rely on oxygen to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary energy source for various cellular processes. During exercise, our muscles have an increased demand for oxygen, leading to increased breathing and heart rates to supply more oxygen to the bloodstream (Oxygen Plus). A higher VO2 Max indicates a better ability to deliver and utilize oxygen, significantly impacting our endurance performance and overall aerobic fitness.

High-Altitude Training

High-altitude training is another aspect of athletic performance where oxygen is vital. The air becomes thinner when training at higher altitudes, and the available oxygen decreases. The body responds by increasing the production of red blood cells to enhance oxygen delivery to the muscles. It helps athletes improve their endurance and performance when competing at sea level or lower altitudes.

However, it requires a careful and gradual approach, as the reduced oxygen levels may initially lead to decreased performance, physical and mental fatigue, and a slower recovery rate (Teachers College SJ). By adapting to these conditions, our bodies become more efficient in maintaining blood oxygen levels, ultimately boosting our athletic prowess.

In conclusion, we can see the undeniable link between oxygen and human performance in athletic training. By understanding the significance of VO2 Max for aerobic fitness and the role of high-altitude training, we can optimize our workouts and achieve greater results in our physical endeavors.


In this article, we’ve explored the significance of oxygen in various aspects of life. Oxygen is essential for respiration, a critical process that drives the metabolism of most living organisms, including humans and many other creatures. It is also a key component in photosynthesis, carried out by plants, algae, and cyanobacteria, which helps trap the sun’s energy into carbohydrates.

Furthermore, the importance of oxygen for the immune system cannot be overstated. Adequate oxygen levels in our body promote the proper functioning and reproduction of white blood cells, which help guard against dangerous invaders like viruses and bacteria. A robust immune system is crucial for maintaining our overall health and well-being.

Oxygen also plays a significant role in various industries that use kilns, due to its unique chemical properties and reactions. In summary, oxygen is a vital element that holds a crucial place in sustaining life, promoting good health, and supporting numerous industries.