Exercisers Need to Pay Attention to New Report on Air Quality

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • With Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer right around the corner, many people are starting to take their workouts outdoors. As you do so, you need to think about the quality of the air that you’re breathing. Think about it – when you exercise, you’re also increasing your intake of air. So it matters what type of air you’re breathing when you’re “sucking wind” after a hard workout.

    A new report from the American Lung Association entitled The State of the Air 2012 provides a snapshot of air quality in the United States. The researchers looked at levels of ozone and particle pollution at official monitoring sites located across the country; this data was collected in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

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    They found that while air pollution has been cleaned up in many places thanks to the Clean Air Act, more than 127 million people (which represent 41 percent of the country’s population) live in counties that have high levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Furthermore, more than 5.7 million people live in six counties that have unhealthful levels of ozone, short-term participle pollution and year-round particle pollution.

    The good news, according to the report, is that more than half of the smoggiest cities in the United States showed improvement. “Twenty-two of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution improved their air quality over the past year’s report,” the ALA website stated. “More than half of the country’s most smog-polluted cities experienced their best year yet.” However, ALA found that nearly four in 10 people – or 37.8 percent of the population – live in places that have unhealthy levels of ozone pollution.

    The report identified a number of cities as having the most air pollution. These include 10 California cities -- Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Fresno, Hanford, Visalia, Merced, Modesto, Sacramento, San Diego and San Luis Obispo – as well as the following cities: Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; Houston, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Logan, Utah; Louisville, Kentucky; Fairbanks, Alaska; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and St. Louis, Missouri. The city with the cleanest air was Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    The association also reported that most cities that had previously recorded the most year-round particle pollution (known as soot) improved; in fact, 17 cities recorded having the lowest-ever levels of particle pollution. However, short-term participle pollution results in metro areas were mixed. The ALA reported that 13 of the most polluted cities had improved air quality while 12 cities reported worse levels.

    Scarily, breathing particle pollution can increase the risk of many health issues, including heart attacks and strokes, as well as emergency room visits for those who suffer from asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. And breathing this pollution also can increase the risk of early death.

    Add exercise into the mix and the potential for health problems jumps again. “For one thing, during aerobic activity you typically inhale more air, and you breathe it more deeply into y our lungs,” Dr. Edward Laskowski of the Mayo Clinic explained. “And because you’re likely to breathe mostly through your mouth during exercise, the air you breathe in generally bypasses your nasal passages, which normally filter airborne pollution particles.”

  • But don’t take this information as a way to avoid exercising. Dr. Laskowski suggests that you focus on ways to minimize the effects of air pollution when you exercise through the following:

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    • Monitor air pollution levels. The city where I used to live would activily get out the word through the media when there were ozone alert days. Your community also may have a system to alert citizens about air pollution levels. To learn how to tap these alerts, contact a local hospital, your doctor, the Environmental Protection Agency, or your local or state air pollution control agency.
    • Avoid exercising outdoors when the air quality is poorest. If there’s an air quality alert, you should try to avoid outdoor exercise or, at the very least, reduce the intensity and duration of your activity. You also should avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are the highest (often midday or in the afternoon) or during rush hour.
    • Avoid exercising in high-pollution areas. These areas include urban environments, outdoor smoking areas, and being within 50 feet of a well-travelled road.
    • Take your exercise routine indoors on poor air quality days.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    American Lung Association. (2012). State of the Air 2012.

    Laskowski, E. R. (2011). Does air pollution make outdoor exercise risky? Mayo Clinic

Published On: May 23, 2012