Aerobic activity is healthy and everyone should be doing it a few times a week, but what about all the air pollution? Running in air pollution has the potential to cause serious health issues.
I am fortunate to live in an area where the air pollution is generally low enough that there are minimal risks when running out doors. In the winter months, that changes. I live in a valley and the cold air traps the pollution down in the valley as shown in the picture above. Yuck!
I can see it in the air, a brownish yellow fog. I can smell it in the air, exhaust and dirt. I can feel it when I breathe, thick and irritating.
I cough up mucus. My nose is congested. My throat is sore.
Pollution consists of both fine particulate matter and ozone gases. Both are bad, but the particulate matter causes major problems because it settles in your lungs causing inflammation and irritation. It can also get into your bloodstream. When it gets into your blood vessels, it causes them to dilate blocking oxygen and blood from reaching your muscles. It also lowers your body’s ability to create a protein, which breaks up clots.
But what about running?
When you run you inhale more air, ten to twenty times as much air, and you pull it deep into your lungs. If you are breathing through your mouth, the air bypasses the natural filter of your nose. Which means, all that thick yellow fog is making itself at home in your lungs.
Those with asthma, diabetes, heart or lung conditions, or lower respiratory disease should avoid being out in the pollution and definitely should not be out exercising in it.
For the rest of us who are relatively healthy, you should think twice. Running in the pollution especially long runs, which put you out in the yellow fog for hours at a time, is probably not a good idea. It can damage your airways and increase your risk of developing asthma. Oh and there is the chance that it will increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease(heart attacks) and lung cancer too.
Experts in the air pollution area say don’t give up on exercising outdoors because the benefits to exercise outweigh the damage especially if you take some precautions.
So what do you do?
Monitor the air quality in your area. The internet is the best way to do this. Most areas have a website dedicated to reporting air quality and keep it updated by the hour.
Run indoors on a track or treadmill. I know it is not the most fun, but it’s better than cancer. On Sunday, I ran my second long run on the treadmill.
Run where the air is safe to breathe deeply. On Saturday, I went to a higher mountain valley to run where the air is clear. It was slightly colder than where I live, but at least I could breathe.
Reduce the time you are out there. If you must run outside, shorten your run and try to time it for when the pollution is at its lowest if possible.
Stay away from major roadways.
Take an extra rest day and hope it clears up the next day.