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How Air Pollution Affects Exercising Outdoors

Feb 6, 2010

We all know that air pollution exists, but without feeling its effects every day, some of us might forget that it can affect us in more subtle ways that we might not immediately notice. One way that air pollution affects a community is in how it determines our exercise habits.

Common sense would dictate that it's good for you to go exercise or run outdoors. That's been the natural order of things for the entirety of human existence. But there is a new wrinkle in the story, and that has to do with the way that harmful pollutants and emissions are fouling up the air that we breathe.

Outdoor Exercise and Pollution Spikes

If you live in a "smog city," you probably know about it. However, more and more of today's communities are vulnerable to changing levels of air pollution. Things like carbon emissions, CFCs and more get pumped into the air every day, and some of them translate into a material reduction in the air quality where you are.

Many municipalities and local regions recognize that it's a key public service to let their residents know when the danger of suffering from air pollution is at higher levels due to a temporary rise in pollution or a "pollution spike." Some people refer to bad ozone days or other terms for a general warning about the lack of air quality on any given day. Many locals keep track of these reports, and use them to schedule their outdoor activities, including exercise.

How Air Pollution May Affect Your Fitness Session

If you are an asthmatic or have a similar respiratory condition, low air quality can have a physical effect. You may feel yourself getting winded earlier than usual, or needing to take a hit from an inhaler. This is a clue that a particular day may not be the best for running or another outdoor activity.

For those who don't have any of the above conditions, it may not be likely that you'll feel any effect whatsoever, even if you run on a "bad air day." Whether or not you want to pay attention to air quality schedules and plan your runs accordingly has to do with how you feel about the effects of air pollution on a long-term basis.

How Outdoor Exercise Interacts with Air Pollution

Medical experts have found that those involved in cardio exercise outdoors may be experiencing air pollution in a different way. Nose and throat specialists know that when the body is at work, air is often taken in through the mouth without as much nasal filtering as is done when the body is at rest. Because of this, runners, cyclists and the like can bear more of the burden of air pollution. Similarly, the bad air tends to get taken deeper into the lungs during intense physical activity.

The effects can be worse for those "working out on the street" or running or biking along with traffic. Some who are affected by air pollution may want to find a local park to run in, instead of hoofing it through busy streets where they may be vulnerable to additional pollution levels from passing vehicles.

Consider the above when planning your outdoor activities if you're bothered by the effects of air pollution in your local community.

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