While exercise is good for your health, regular exposure to heavily polluted air may trigger health problems. You may experience negative effects on your health if you exercise regularly in areas with air pollution, particularly if you have asthma or other chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease of diabetes.
When performing an aerobic exercise, you may breathe as much as 10 times more air than when you are at rest. You also tend to draw air more deeply into your lungs and breathe mostly through your mouth – which means air does not get filtered, unlike when you breathe through your nose where nasal hairs collect the dirt in the air. These things combine to increase your contact with pollutants, and make air pollution and exercise a risky combination.
Year-round exposure to air pollution or a specific matter such as a mix of tiny specks of soot, dust and aerosols suspended in the air, has been associated with:
- Considerable damage to the small airways of the lungs
- An increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in older women
- An increased risk of death from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease
This does not mean however, that you should drop exercise altogether. You should limit your exposure to harmful air pollution by:
Timing your workouts carefully. Check you local air pollution alerts and plan your outdoor workouts based on them. Avoid outdoor physical activity when pollution levels are highest, e.g. in the midday or afternoon.
Avoid congested streets. Pollution levels are highest within 50 feet of the road.
Exercise indoors. Vary your routine by occasionally working out indoors. You can also take up fitness classes, enrolling at your local gym or running on an indoor track.
Talk to your doctor if you have chronic illness or any concerns about outdoor exercises.