Definitions of Anatomy & Physiology

At colleges and universities, anatomy and physiology are often combined into one course. This is because they are branches of the study of biology that are closely related. When using the two terms together, you could say that anatomy is the study of the parts of the body, and physiology is the study of how those parts work together.

Anatomy and physiology study the human body and its functions. (Image: Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Anatomy Is the Form

3-D model of human organs (Image: video-doctor/iStock/Getty Images)

Anatomy is the area of science that deals with the structure of a life form, also called an organism. This includes its external appearance and features as well as its internal ones. Simply put, the study of anatomy is the study of an organism's form and parts. Dissecting the term itself reveals the origins of its parts. The first part, ana-, means "up" in Greek. The second part of the word, -tomy, means "a cutting." The word anatomy literally refers to the dissection or "cutting up" of an organism.

Physiology Is the Function

3-D rendering of neutrons inside the brain (Image: shumpc/iStock/Getty Images)

Physiology gives function to anatomy's form. Physiology is the study of how the various parts of the body work together. This includes the molecules, cells, organs, muscles and all of their chemical processes and functions. For example, you might study anatomy and learn about the structure of the heart and circulatory system and then study physiology to learn about how the heart pumps blood around the body. The origin of the word physiology is the Greek physio- or "nature" plus -logia, which means "study."

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