Running and air pollution: should you be worried?

If you live in an urban area and frequently run outside, there's a good chance you could be putting yourself at risk of a number of health conditions due to air pollutants. Knowing how and when to head outdoors can help both your health and your running long term.

Running and air pollution: should you be worried?

The risks

A recent study by the World Health Organisation shows that 80 per cent of people living in urban areas are exposed to air quality levels that could have a damaging impact on your health. Aerobic exercises such as running and cycling makes breathing harder, as your body demands more oxygen. If the air you're inhaling is highly polluted, this doesn't bode well for your respiratory health.

Exposure to air pollution over long periods of time can be dangerous and sometimes even fatal. 'Long term exposure has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular disease and can contribute to premature mortality,' says Doctify's Dr Shafick Gareeboo.

If you live in the inner city in a high-risk area, this doesn't mean you should quit running altogether. You can still exercise outside every day if you err on the side of caution and learn the facts.

Check the time of day

Air pollution can vary depending on the time of day. Rush hour is an obvious high-risk time, as traffic congestion fills the roads and exhaust fumes enter the air. If you regularly run-commute and can't avoid the hustle and bustle, investing in a mask could work wonders for your lungs. Respro stock pollution masks for running and cycling, tailored to different environments. 

Apps such as Breezometer also allow you to check the air quality of your location. If the air pollution levels are not safe, try rearranging your run for the middle of the day or later on in the evening when the pollution levels decrease.

Head off the beaten path

Planning your route away from congested urban areas will benefit your lungs. According to Breathe London, avoiding busy roads as you walk or cycle can reduce the amount of pollution you breathe by up to 70 per cent. This could be as adventurous as jumping on a train to enjoy a run beside the sea or as simple as plotting a route through sleepy low-traffic residential areas.

Train indoors

If pollution is at a high, there are still a number of ways to keep fit indoors away from the potentially damaging air. Training at a gym or sports centre doesn't have to be boring, with endless activities to choose from. From sweating it out in a spin class, to picking up some weights or getting speedy on the treadmill, it can be the perfect opportunity to reignite your love for exercise. Treadmill sessions such as these four speed workouts could even help you run faster.

Exercise is best

Although air pollution can pose problems for your respiratory health, avoiding fitness full stop doesn't completely eliminate the risks and exercising is definitely better than avoiding it altogether.

'Pollution has an impact on our health,' says Dr. Gareeboo. 'However, on the basis of current evidence, the benefit from exercise outweighs the risk.' So, whether you invest in a running mask, head out when it's quieter or opt for the treadmill two times out of three, it pays to keep on moving.

Join the Clean Air campaign

Want to really make a difference? Friends of the Earth is demanding the UK ends all diesel use on UK roads within the next decade to drastically improve air quality. Head over to Friends of the Earth UK and sign the pledge to quit diesel, order a Clean Air Kit to uncover what air pollution is like near you and join a local group to help your community start working on clean air in your immediate vicinity.  

Join now for free!

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