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Exercise and air quality

With the long days of summer, there are more daylight hours in which to exercise. Many people focus on running and outdoor activities. There are days, though, it may be best to stay indoors and do another type of workout instead of breathing polluted air during strenuous cardio activity.

In the Washington DC metropolitan area there are 14 monitors throughout the region. These monitors test the ground level ozone and fine air particles every hour. Based on these numbers an air quality code is released. This code can be used as a guide for anyone who plans on spending time outdoors but is especially important to those who are sensitive to air changes and those who plan on participating in strenuous activity. If the code measures green or yellow it is usually alright to exercise. When the air quality measures at a code orange it is unhealthy for sensitive groups. Under this warning “active adults and children as well people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion”. When the air quality measures at a code red it is considered unhealthy for all afore mentioned groups. “During this code prolonged outdoor exertion should be avoided”.

One may say, “I am a “hard core” athlete and do not mind the heat. What will happen to me if I do not heed the warning? In short, runners are more affected by air pollution than others because runners take in significantly more oxygen, 10-20 times as much as non-runners. Studies have linked sulfur oxides, ozone, and carbon monoxide to decreased athletic performance. Exposure to pollutants generally leads to a drop in an athlete’s ability to take in oxygen. In addition, particulate matter found in air pollution can prematurely age a runner’s lungs– and lead to an increased chance of heart disease. According to the International Herald Tribune:

“A study that used the mass of data included in the Women’s Health Initiative found that women who lived in communities with relatively high levels of air pollution in the forms of tiny particles–also known as soot–were far more likely to die because of heart attacks than women who lived in cleaner air.”

It is not necessary to stop exercising outdoors all-together. It is necessary to heed the air quality warnings and exercise smart. For more information on clean air in the Washington DC metropolitan area, visit the Clean Air Partners and download their Guide to Keeping Your Lungs Happy.

1. Shephard, R. J., Athletic performance and urban air pollution. Canadian Medical Association Journal 1984, 131, 105-109.
2. Pierson, W. E.; Covert, D. S.; Koening, J. Q.; Namekata, T.; Kim, Y. S., Implications of air pollution effects on athletic performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 1986, 18 (3), 322-327.

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