Pollution wipes out the benefits of exercise, study suggests

James Marshall
December 6, 2017

A report funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) says that if you are over 60, the positive effects of walking in built up areas such as London's busy Oxford Street are cancelled out by negative effects of breathing in unhealthy air.

Mother's home address at time of birth was recorded and average monthly concentrations of traffic related pollutants - nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) from traffic exhaust and non-exhaust sources, such as brakes or tyre wear - as well as larger particulate matter (PM10) were estimated. By comparison, a walk along Oxford Street led to only a small increase in lung capacity in participants, far lower than recorded in the park. And while the arteries of those walking in the park became 24 per cent less stiff, they improved by just 4.6 per cent for people on Oxford Street.

"Exercise is crucial in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, but it seems unsafe levels of air pollution could be erasing these benefits in older adults". "Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic", he added.

"Air pollution contributes to around 40,000 premature deaths in the United Kingdom every year, and the extent of its damage to our cardiovascular health is becoming clearer all of the time".

"Exercise is crucial in reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke, but it seems risky levels of air pollution could be erasing these benefits in older adults".

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

London Mayor Sadiq Khan says he is making battling air pollution one of his top priorities.

"Combined with evidence from other recent studies, our findings underscore that we can not really tolerate the levels of air pollution that we now find on our busy streets", said Fan Chung, professor at Imperial College in the UK.

The government, which wants to completely phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2040, is under pressure to do more to bring down harmful levels of toxic fumes faster.

According to the research, led by Imperial College London and Duke University, the findings add to the growing body of evidence showing the negative impacts of urban air pollution on cardiovascular and respiratory health.

"As economic growth and urbanisation happen around the world, lots of cities are left with very little green space".

However, that doesn't mean Londoners should suddenly give up all exercise, as the study only applies to outdoor exercise in busy, polluted areas.

In addition, the researchers founsd that for those patients with heart disease, taking medication that improved the cardiovascular system was associated with a stabilising effect, and may prevent them from deteriorating in areas with higher levels of air pollution.

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