The results come as no surprise, especially for measurements in major cities like Los Angeles. In fact, the latter has been found to be one of the most polluted in the U.S., and not too far behind are the highly urbanized cities of Houston, Washington, New York, Cincinnati and Philadelphia. On the other hand, cities in North and South Dakota, as well as Palm Beach, Fla., are considered cleanest as of the moment.
Whether you live in a polluted city or not, you’ve surely had to make do with working out along busy polluted roads at some point in your life. Whether you’re a serious athlete or a recreational cyclist or runner, it’s but prudent to educate yourself if working out in polluted areas causes damage to your lungs and your health overall.
Air Pollution’s Effect When You’re Exercising
According to a 2004 Australian review of pollution studies worldwide, during exercise, even very minimal concentration of air pollutants can damage the lungs. Said harming effect to the lungs is as severe when exposed to high concentrations of soot and air pollutants when not working out. The researchers therefore concluded that individuals who work out outdoors, especially in highly polluted areas, should be worried about their health.
This happens because harmful particles from the air can get past the nasal hairs, the body’s first line of defense. Ultimately, these particles end up in the lungs thus causing inflammation and irritation. These particles sometimes end up in the bloodstream as well. When this occurs, the risk for heart attack and stroke then increases. So since working out means you’ll have to breathe deeper, then more of these particle pollutants get to pass through your nasal filtering.
Yet another study that got featured in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that females who live in areas with high levels of air pollution in the form of soot have higher likelihood of dying from heart attacks as compared to females who lived in cleaner air. Said researchers then concluded that soot particles are very harmful, most especially to athletes who take in higher concentrations during exercise.
A similar study at the University of Edinburgh was conducted in 2005 as well. Healthy subjects were made to exercise for 30 minutes on stationary bikes inside a laboratory that had been piped-in with diesel exhaust fumes at levels similar to that of a busy highway during rush hour. Researchers then found that the subjects’ blood vessels were affected in that the latter’s ability to distribute blood and oxygen to the muscles were negatively compromised. The subjects’ levels of “tissue plasminogen activator,” which are naturally-occurring proteins that function by dissolving clots in the blood, significantly decreased as well. Because of these findings, the researchers concluded that working out along polluted roads may possibly set in motion the preliminary stages of heart attack or stroke.
But new research offers some glimmer of hope to athletes and sports enthusiasts who have no choice but to exercise in polluted urbanized areas.