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Living in a big city has many benefits, from convenience to culture and opportunities. But because cities house more people (and more cars and buses), they often share a less surprising benefit: air pollution.
Air pollution poses a serious threat to the environment. But what about on a personal level? Are these pollutants in the air dangerous to your health -- especially if you're someone who enjoys the great outdoors?
Is air pollution a risk to people exercising outdoors?
No way: Air pollution can negatively affect your health. But the magnitude of the negative impact depends on many factors.
"The risk and/or severity of the risk depends on the level of pollutants, the type of pollutants, and existing conditions that make breathing more difficult, such as asthma," said Dr. Pseudomonas Smoak, associate professor of health services at North Central University Say. President of the Physical Activity Division of the American Public Health Association.
So if you are a person with respiratory problems living in a heavily polluted area, you are at risk of developing pollutant-related complications from outdoor exercise and cleaner air compared to someone with a healthy respiratory system living in an urban area higher.
Outdoor exercise (and all the heavy breathing that comes with good exercise!) also increases risk. "This is because during exercise, more air is drawn deeper into the lungs -- often pollutants are filtered through the mouth rather than the nose," Smoke said.
If the air in your city is very polluted, what will be the impact of outdoor sports?
So doing outdoor sports in heavily polluted areas is risky. But what are these risks? Studies have shown potential side effects of outdoor exercise in areas with high air pollution "from headaches and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat to increased asthma risk and even increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease and lung cancer," Smoke said.
The side effects, if any, of outdoor exercise in polluted areas vary from person to person. But generally, in the short term, side effects can include more serious temporary problems (such as eye, throat, and nose irritation) -- while continued exercise in environments with high levels of air pollution can lead to more serious long-term effects. such as chronic cardiovascular or respiratory problems).
Should air pollution stop you from exercising outdoors?
You live in a city with high air pollution. There is a potential risk of inhaling polluted air while exercising. So, the question is - should these risks stop you from lacing up your shoes and going to the great outdoors?
The answer is yes, maybe not. "Studies have found that the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks of air pollution," Smoke said. Like the 2016 study, this study found that the benefits of outdoor physical activity, such as walking or cycling, "outweigh the harms from air pollution, except at the most extreme air pollution concentrations."
However, there are exceptions. People who may be at high risk for pollution-related complications (for example, those with respiratory conditions) should consult their doctor before deciding whether outdoor exercise in areas with high air pollution is the right move.
How to reduce the risk of air pollution when exercising outdoors
While the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks of air pollution for most people, that doesn't mean you have to ignore these risks entirely. While enjoying running, cycling, or other outdoor sports, there are certainly things you can do to reduce your air pollution-related risks, including:
Monitor air quality. "Air pollution is measured by the Air Quality Index (AQI), [designated air pollution levels] on a scale from 1 to 500," Smock said. Before going out to exercise, check the AQI in your area (real-time AQI data can be monitored using an app, such as the EPA's AirNow app) to make sure it's at a safe level. "Unhealthy air quality is considered 151 or higher," Smoke said. If the problem you have is putting you at higher risk, you need to aim for a lower AQI. "For sensitive people, 101 is considered unhealthy," Smoke said.
time to practice. AQ levels are usually higher at certain times of the day. "Scheduling exercise based on your usual AQI levels, such as avoiding peak and warmer times of the day," could be a good way to reduce your risk, Smoke said.
Wear a mask. Research has found that masks protect against particle pollution -- or in other words, prevent you from breathing in airborne pollutants. While some masks are more effective than others (for example, an N95 close-to-the-face mask will provide more protection than a loose cloth or surgical mask), a less effective mask is also better than no mask - so if you're concerned about exercising outdoors air pollution, be careful and cover it up.