Heywood House News

Effects of Air pollution on exercise

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A RECENT study at Lancaster University found that joggers who exercise near busy roads are far more at risk from air pollution than people who walk the same route.

The study wanted to assess how dangerous running along traffic hotspots such as towns and cities can be and found that the more breaths runners take, the more pollution they inhale.

While runners might think going faster by the side of a road will reduce their exposure to the fumes spewing out of cars and lorries, the quicker they run and the harder they breathe will increase the amount they inhale by up to a third more than those who walk.

Traffic fumes, which are loaded with microscopic airborne particles, known as particulate matter (PM), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), are known to cause headaches and can aggravate asthma, respiratory diseases and, in the longer term, can even lead to heart disease and cancer.

“You might think that walking faster from A-to-B will mean less exposure, but that’s only if your breathing rate is constant. In actual fact, as you walk faster your breathing rate increases, so you inhale more,” said Gemma Davies, the lead researcher on the study.

Unsurprisingly, less fit, older and heavier people are at more risk of great inhalation because they breathe much harder.

The researchers found that using less polluted routes can make a huge difference. The running track at Heywood House is well away from the A350 and is a far healthy place to exercise. Heywood measures at 1 (on a scale of 1-6) for air pollution on a map compiled by the environmental group EarthSense that shows NO2 concentrations in 100x100m squares across the UK.

The World Health Organisation has named air pollution one of the biggest threats to health in Europe. It has this advice to avoid its worst effects:

  • Use quieter streets where there are fewer traffic queues. A study by King’s College London showed that taking a side street could reduce average exposure to air pollution by 53 per cent, and in some cases up to 60 per cent.
  • Use a pollution app, like Air Quality/Air Visual to check for high fumes or there are personal sensors that work in tandem with your phone.
  • Avoid exercise at rush hour, as detailed above.
  • Don’t use masks. They can become clogged with pollutant and ineffective and are often too ill-fitting to keep fumes out. Research at Edinburgh’s Institute of Occupational Medicine looked at masks on sale in China and found that average leakage was between three and 68 per cent while the wearer was immobile and seven to 66 per cent during activity.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Researchers at New York’s College of Medicine found a Mediterranean diet reduced the effects of polluted air by resisting heart disease. Pollutants increase oxidation in the body but antioxidants vitamin C and the other vitamins found in fruit and vegetables can help neutralise it.

Whatever method you adopt, you can be sure that a stroll around the grounds at Heywood House near Westbury, or a lap of the running track, will only add to your wellbeing.


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