Does air pollution make outdoor exercise risky?

While aerobic activity is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle, air pollution and exercise can be an unhealthy combination. This is especially true if you have asthma, diabetes, or heart or lung conditions. Young children, older people, and people who work or exercise outdoors can be especially susceptible to the effects of outdoor air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution can come from many sources, including:

Motor vehicle traffic

Pollen from flowers, trees and shrubbery

Wind-blown dust

Burning wood


Agricultural operations, including raising animals and clearing land

Power plants

Even when you’re not exercising, exposure to air pollution can cause health problems. But with the combination of air pollution and exercise, the potential health problems are increased.

One reason for this increased risk may be that during aerobic activity, you usually inhale more air and breathe it more deeply into your lungs. And because you’re more likely to breathe deeply through your mouth during exercise, the air you breathe in generally bypasses your nasal passages, which normally filter airborne pollution particles.

Health problems associated with air pollution include:


Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat

Damage to airways of the lungs

Increased risk of asthma development

Worsening of existing asthma or other lung conditions

Increased risk of heart attacks and strokes

Increased risk of death from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease

People living in many areas of the world, especially large cities, are regularly exposed to air pollution levels far beyond the limit recommended by the World Health Organization. What’s not clear with air pollution and exercise is how much exposure is a danger, how long you have to be exposed, or which types of outdoor air pollution are the most harmful over…

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