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Pollution Can Counteract Exercise Benefits, Study Suggests
06 December 2017, 09:21 | Melissa Porter
Exercising on polluted city streets can lead to breathing problems: Inhaling toxic fumes cancels out the benefits of keeping fit
And it isn't just individuals with pre-existing heart and lung conditions who experience those negative effects. The study found no conclusive effect on babies health by noise pollution.
The damage done by breathing in traffic fumes outweighs the benefits of physical activity, scientists found.
They also call for more green spaces in urban environments.
"Combined with evidence from other recent studies, our findings underscore that we can't really tolerate the levels of air pollution that we now find on our busy streets", said Fan Chung, professor of respiratory medicine and head of experimental studies medicine at Imperial College's National Heart and Lung Institute.
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. Before and after the walks (which averaged 3.1 miles at each setting), the participants underwent various tests that are created to assess the effects of exercise on heart and lung health.
Blood flow also increased after exercise, with decreases in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate.
The team took physical measurements from the participants before and after the walks and collected data on pollution levels to measure participants' exposure. They also point out that there was no resting control group, so they can't be sure that walking contributed to the changes in lung function and arterial stiffness, although previous studies have shown that walking improves arterial stiffness.
But after walking on Oxford Street there were only minor improvements in lung capacity, while the measures of arterial stiffness actually got worse which the study associated with "greater exposure to black carbon soot and ultrafine particles from diesel exhaust".
Conversely, for those who walked on Oxford Street, the positive effects were much lower in comparison.
In the healthy volunteers, the reduction in arterial stiffness resulting from the walk in Hyde Park persisted for up to 26 hours. Walks along Oxford Street yielded much smaller gains.
They also found volunteers taking heart drugs such as statins were less affected by the air pollution, suggesting the drugs might protect against the damage. The results may or may not be applicable to people living elsewhere. All were healthy enough to take long (over two-hour) walks outside. It can't tell us, therefore, what the long-term benefits (or non-benefits) of exercise are in relation to pollution.
But it can be hard to think about what the pollution is doing to our health with so many other things to worry about.
"For many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, the only exercise they very often can do is to walk", Chung says.
'For people living in the inner city it may be hard to find areas where they can walk, away from pollution ... we really need to reduce pollution by controlling traffic'. "But for those living in inner cities, this may be hard to do, and there may be a cost associated with it as they have to travel further away from where they live or work".
"The findings from recent Lancet paper are relevant to Australia since some of our busy roads may fall within the poor air quality observed in Oxford Street, London".
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