Pollution wipes out the benefits of exercise, study suggests

Pollution wipes out the benefits of exercise, study suggests

The findings can be found published online in The Lancet.

Prof Stephen Holgate from Southampton University and special adviser to the Royal College of Physicians on air quality, said: "The observation that air pollution encountered on a high street in London removes any health protection produced by exercise outdoors is yet another demonstration that pollution is eroding the health of ordinary people. Perhaps it's simply more relaxing to walk in the park".

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

"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.

The Lancet study included 119 adults aged 60 or over, including 40 healthy volunteers, 40 with stable COPD and 39 with stable ischaemic heart disease.

The researchers from Imperial College London and Duke University in the United States of America recruited 119 people for the study who were either healthy, had stable heart disease, or stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - a type of lung disease.

Volunteers who took a walk in Hyde Park experienced a decrease in the stiffness of their arteries, a benefit normally seen after exercise. Even though London is not one of the world's most notoriously polluted cities, there is a lot of diesel pollution in downtown streets such as Oxford Street, and there is much less in nearby Hyde Park, with its trees, bushes and grassy spaces.

Air pollution from road traffic is putting unborn babies' health at risk, according to a new study. By contrast, lung capacity improved only slightly during the Oxford Street walk - and did not last. However, it is still a notorious area for dirty air, with high levels of black carbon, nitrogen dioxide, and fine particulate matter.

The authors say more research is needed to confirm this finding.

They also call for more green spaces in urban environments.

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Significant differences in arterial stiffness were also observed.

"If people can not find a green place or a park to exercise, I think they probably should exercise indoors", Chung said.

"The exercise is good for you but the higher the pollution levels, the less helpful it is". But the maximum change resulting from the Oxford Street walk was 16 percent for people with COPD, 8.6 percent for those with heart disease and a meager 4.6 percent for the healthy volunteers. The negative effect may well be the same in younger people, say the authors, and it reinforces the urgency of reducing emissions in city streets.

That's because pollution in some parts of the capital is so bad that it negates the normal health benefits that come from working out. "This important study mandates action to radically reduce pollution at source to enable our cities and towns to be safe places to live in and move around".

In response to the new findings, Tainio said, "it is also important to notice that this study looked at the short-term impacts". Chung also said the study indicated individuals should avoid busy, congested areas whenever possible and opt for green spaces instead. "We agree that this is good advice for recreational walking for people who can make that choice", he added.

"This paper highlights the risks to health by walking along polluted roads for the over-60s with specific pre-existing medical conditions", added Ian Colbeck, professor of environmental science at the University of Essex.

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

Professor Stephen Holgate, special adviser on air quality to the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom, believes that "we can be quite confident from this (new) study that it is the pollution that is the factor responsible for changes in lung function".

Tainio highlighted that encouraging people to exercise could in turn reduce pollution levels. "For example, the planned removal of buses and taxis from Oxford Street should help to achieve this", he said.

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