Q:

What controls involuntary activities such as breathing and heartbeat?

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Quick Answer

Involuntary activities are controlled by the autonomous nervous system, whose main component is a part of the brain stem called the medulla oblongata. This system, as a subset of the peripheral nervous system, functions outside the brain and spinal cord and is composed of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

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What controls involuntary activities such as breathing and heartbeat?
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Full Answer

The medulla oblongata directly controls heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing and digestion. The sympathetic nervous system controls the body's "fight-or-flight" response, which quickly increases blood flow and breathing rate in response to danger or excitement. The parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite; it reverses the changes done by the sympathetic nervous system in order to calm the body, although its response is slower and occurs over the course of a few minutes.

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