Air pollution cancels out benefits of exercise

Hyde Park is the better place to exercise Credit Michael Kemp  Alamy Stock

Hyde Park is the better place to exercise Credit Michael Kemp Alamy Stock

Before you get angry, no, this study is not saying that air pollution wipes out the benefits of all exercise. It also stresses on the importance of greater access to urban green spaces for people to exercise, the researchers said.

It perhaps comes as no surprise that people walking in the park fared better.

"However, telling joggers to avoid polluted streets is not a solution to the problem".

Air pollution levels were monitored before and during their walk, and each participant's lung capacity and arterial stiffness was measured before and after.

"This very interesting new study gets around that limitation, by getting the participants to do things they wouldn't necessarily have chosen to do as part of their normal activity".

For a fair comparison, a healthy control group was included, but to the researchers' surprise, they saw a significant impact from pollution on everyone.

In the study, researchers recruited 119 volunteers through the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, who were over the age of 60 and were either healthy, had stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or had stable heart disease.

Participants spent two hours walking along traffic-heavy Oxford Street, which is one the most polluted spots in the United Kingdom, or in Hyde Park. Some weeks later they did the other walk.

Traffic along Oxford Street is restricted to allow mainly buses and taxis, which typically run on diesel fuel. In fact, Oxford Street and other roads in London famously often surpass their legal pollution limit just a few days into the year.

On the other hand, those on Oxford Street experienced a smaller increase, and their results did not last for the rest of the day.

"Since the vast majority of the most toxic vehicles on our roads are diesel cars and vans, the UK Government must introduce a national "remove and replace" diesel vehicle policy to protect the health of children - both born and to be born". They also occur among healthy people, the study found.

"We're not talking about very high levels of pollution that you see in India or China". "At that level, we are seeing effects that are negating the benefits of walking".

Pollution likely has similar effects on people of all ages, the study's authors add. "The only difference is that young people are much more resilient", he said.

New research suggests that the benefits of exercise could be cancelled out by the high levels of pollution found in urban areas.

"While the research did not show an independent effect of noise on birth weight, we can not rule it out as a potential factor".

"Our model indicates that in London, health benefits of active travel always outweigh the risk from pollution", lead author of the research Marko Tainio said when it was published in 2016.

It might seem obvious, but it hasn't been clear if the drawbacks of air pollution counteract the benefits of exercising. These findings need to be confirmed with empirical long-term studies examining tradeoffs over months and years. "Instead, walking exercise should be enjoyed in urban green space areas away from high density traffic", the authors advised. "We agree that this is good advice for recreational walking for people who can make that choice", he added.

Ian Colbeck, professor of environmental science at Essex University, said the paper highlighted the risks to health by walking along polluted roads, for the over-60s with specific pre-existing medical conditions.

A recent study has claimed that even a two-hour of exposure to air pollution, especially in the form of vehicular exhaust can nullify the positive impacts of walking. People like outdoor exercise.

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