Clinical evaluation of the pattern and timing of breathing during submaximal exercise can be valuable for the identification of the mechanical ventilatory consequences of different disease processes and for assessing the efficacy of certain interventions. Sedentary individuals (60 male/60 female, aged 20-80 yrs) were randomly selected from >8,000 subjects and submitted to ramp incremental cycle ergometry. Tidal volume (VT)/resting inspiratory capacity, respiratory frequency, total respiratory time (Ttot), inspiratory time (TI), expiratory time (TE), duty cycle (TI/Ttot) and mean inspiratory flow (VT/TI) were analysed at selected submaximal ventilatory intensities. Senescence and female sex were associated with a more tachypnoeic breathing pattern during isoventilation. The decline in Ttot was proportional to the TI and TE reductions, i.e. TI/Ttot was remarkably constant across age strata, independent of sex. The pattern, but not timing, of breathing was also influenced by weight and height; a set of demographically and anthropometrically based prediction equations are therefore presented. These data provide a frame of reference for assessing the normality of some clinically useful indices of the pattern and timing of breathing during incremental cycle ergometry in sedentary males and females aged 20-80 yrs.