Exercise and Air Quality: Finding A Healthy Balance

Article courtesy of the St. Louis Regional Clean Air Partnership

As temperatures rise you’re more likely to see walkers, runners and bikers on the roads. Dumping the gym for the great outdoors seems like the right thing to do, but some risks are involved this time of year. Exercising on poor air quality days has been linked to health problems and may put pause to some trips outside. However, don’t give up outdoor exercise instead; try to focus on ways to harness the benefits of an outdoors work out while minimizing the risks of air pollution.

According to the Mayo Clinic, when exercising, individuals typically inhale larger amounts of air and breathe this air more deeply into the lungs. Individuals are also likely to breathe through the mouth when exercising versus the nose. This process bypasses the nasal passages which filter airborne pollution particles. Outside Online stated that, “breathing polluted air triggers inflammation and oxidative stress that increases your risk of asthma, stroke and heart failure.”

A 2010 study in the Netherlands reinforced that with estimates that the air pollution effects of switching from a car to a bike for short daily trips in polluted cities would subtract between .8 and 40 days from the average life span. However, supplementary results in that same study showed that the additional exercise would actually extend the average lifespan between three and 14 months. These results show there are benefits of working out even though there are negative side effects of air pollution.

So, the next question to ask is should someone exercise outdoors? The American Lung Association suggests that children, people with asthma and other respiratory illnesses should avoid exercise or strenuous work outdoors during poor air quality days. Those who typically exercise outdoors can continue to do so. There are signs that the anti-inflammatory effects of frequent exercise can counteract air pollution effects. One should be cautious though and take note when the air quality index reaches extremely high levels.

“Monitoring daily air quality levels is important for everyone, not just those with respiratory illnesses. Parks are not only beautiful places to visit, but also can provide cleaner air for those outdoor exercise enthusiasts,” said Susannah Fuchs, senior director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Plains-Gulf Region. “If breathing becomes a little more strained while you’re outdoors, head inside and hit the treadmill. Your lungs will thank you.”

It is important for everyone to take precaution during the summer months when air quality is at its worst. The Mayo Clinic suggests that individuals should time their workouts carefully by reducing the intensity and duration and also stick to early morning or late night workouts. Choosing a local park versus roadways can also improve your breathing. Breathing through the nose can help curtail some of the effects of air pollution on the lungs. Training yourself to do so even while walking down the street can improve lung function.

Ultimately, choosing to exercise indoors or outdoors is up to the individual. It’s important to listen to the body. If you’re feeling winded earlier or have a burning sensation in the lungs, slow it down or take the workout indoors.

For more info visit www.cleanair-stlouis.com.