Air pollution cancels out benefits of exercise

EnvironmentNewsTraffic pollution in London “putting unborn babies’ health at risk”Joe Mellor

EnvironmentNewsTraffic pollution in London “putting unborn babies’ health at risk”Joe Mellor

The researchers studied the cases of 119 volunteers londoners aged 60 and over.

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation, whose chief executive Simon Gillespie said: '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.

A separate study published in The BMJ suggested that pregnant mothers exposed to higher levels of air pollution are more likely to have a baby born at lower birth weights.

In a study published (paywall) December 5 in the Lancet, researchers led by teams at Imperial College London and Peking University in Beijing looked at the health effects of people over 60 years old going for walks in Hyde Park and along Oxford Street, both in London.

An analysis of the data found that increases in traffic-related air pollutants were associated with 2% to 6% increased odds of low birth weight and 1% to 3% increased odds of being small for gestational age.

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They call on governments "to impose policies and measures that can reduce traffic pollution so that every individual can enjoy the health benefits of physical activity".

The project was again led by researchers from Imperial College London alongside Duke University. There were three types of people: people in good health, individuals with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in stable state and persons suffering from coronary artery disease in stable state.

Noise and air pollution in both of the settings were also measured at the times of the walks.

It had already been shown to be jogging in atmosphere polluted was bad for the health, sports and mobilizes large quantities of polluted air in the course of physical exercise.

The study found everyone in the park group benefited, with lung capacity improving within an hour and persisting for 24 hours.

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Blood flow also increased after exercise, with decreases in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate. Half walked on Oxford Street and the other half through a quiet section of nearby Hyde Park. Arteries became less stiff in those walking in Hyde Park with a maximum change from baseline of more than 24% in healthy and COPD volunteers, and more than 19% in heart disease patients.

The health impact of pollution was particularly marked in participants with COPD, who experienced a narrowing of the small airways-reporting more respiratory symptoms including cough, sputum production, shortness of breath, and wheeze-and increased arterial stiffness after walking in Oxford Street compared with Hyde Park.

Although the team noted that stress could be a contributing factor, with the increase in noise and the number of people on Oxford Street another reason behind the physiological differences observed, the new findings still add to the growing body of evidence on the dangers of urban air pollution.

"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".

Professor Fan Chung, who led the research reported in The Lancet journal, said: 'These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk.

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

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