Maintaining Health in a Polluted Environment

Running Exercise

Taking precautions to preserve our health can be a real challenge even on the best of days. High levels of pollutants in the ambient environments can make maintaining a healthy body distinctively more difficult – especially, if like many people you live, work, and exercise in a large city space.

According to research produced by the University of Southern California’s Public Health Program, living in an urban area can have a profound impact on our ability to maintain healthy lung function. In fact, children that grow up in more polluted environment – particularly those that are raised near heavy traffic pollution – have a significant measured decrease in lung capacity as compared to those raised in rural environments with much less traffic-related pollution.

For many, moving outside of the city is not a feasible option for a variety of reasons. Therefore, it is important to take time and precautions to promote your health in these polluted environments.

Monitor Air Pollution Levels

In most communities, it is a standard thing to have a pollution report released every day that indicate how good or bad air quality will be that day. Air quality conditions can be affected by a number of factors. Geographic topography and wind speed/direction can be the greatest natural factors though. For instance, cities that are nestled in valleys are prone to air getting trapped between surrounding mountains and creating an inversion that can hold polluted air in.

Air pollution levels are also impacted by the type of pollution that is in the air. The bad ozone, which is essentially smog, is typically a pollution result of vehicle exhaust and dust. But chemicals such a nitrogen dioxide, which is a more reactive chemical combination also created in part through vehicle exhaust, is more capable of doing more severe damage because the smaller particles can penetrate deeply into the tissues of the lungs.

Distance Yourself from Pollution

When and where exercise happens can also play a profound role in how much air pollution you are exposed to. As previously mentioned, the closer you are to busy roads the more negative impacts to lung capacity will likely be experienced. The highest pollution levels tend to occur with about 165 feet (50 meters) of roads due to the exhaust coming off of cars. It is certainly a good idea to avoid those areas if possible.

Furthermore, the time of day in which you exercise also plays a role in determining the health hazards. Exercising during rush hour or when it is warmer in the afternoons tend to lead to a higher intake of pollutants. Rather, it is advisable to do outdoor exercise in the early mornings or late evenings when most of the daily traffic has died down.

Worst Case Scenario – Go Indoors

Exercising indoors isn’t something that all of us really want to have to do regularly, especially when the temperatures outside are nearly perfect for outdoor activities. However, taking an indoor class or lifting weights instead of doing cardio can be a great way to spice up your routine and get the most out of your workouts. On poor air quality days, it might even be the healthier option.

As the United States continues to see a rise in chronic illness such as cardiovascular disease as a result of a poor diet and exercise, it is good to begin making exercise a habit early. Adjusting your workouts avoid some of the negative health impacts of a polluted environment is an important aspect to gaining and keeping a healthy body.

Brittni Brown is a recent graduate of The College of Idaho in environmental studies. She currently works in marketing for a local business. A life-long learner, Brittni loves sharing new ideas and information with people. In her free time, she loves biking, hiking, and camping.

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