Outdoor Exercise and Air Pollution Risks

Get informed about air pollution and how it can affect your outdoor workout

Because your breathing speeds up while you exercise, outdoor activity in high-pollution areas can be a health hazard

An increase in outdoor activity means you could be more susceptible to air pollution

Sunny summer days are prime time for hiking, biking, running and other outdoor activities. However, as the temperature climbs, so does the likelihood of health-compromising air pollution. The more intense the activity, the faster a person breathes and the greater the amount of air breathed in.

Vigorous exercise also causes a person to breathe in through the mouth rather than the nose, eliminating the ability of the nasal passages to filter out many airborne contaminants. This heavy breathing isn’t a problem if you’re running in clean mountain air, but it can be a potential health hazard if you’re breathing deeply in city smog conditions.

The effects of air pollution can include respiratory discomfort, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, reduced lung function, bronchitis and asthma attacks. Research has also pointed to a link between air pollution and lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure.

People with asthma, diabetes and congestive heart failure are at special risk. However, poor air quality can impair athletic performance in healthy people, too, and even cause them to experience respiratory problems.

If you live in a city where summer smog is a factor, try exercising in the morning, when it’s cooler, and before traffic starts to build. Choose parks, recreation areas and quiet roads situated away from traffic. Heed air-quality advisories. When air quality is particularly bad, consider exercising indoors, reducing your workout intensity, or holding off for a day.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness