Published: Wed, December 06, 2017
Culture | By Stewart Greene

Pollution Can Counteract Exercise Benefits, Study Suggests

Pollution Can Counteract Exercise Benefits, Study Suggests

The damage done by breathing in traffic fumes outweighs the benefits of physical activity, scientists found.

It's no secret that cities are some of the most polluted places on Earth. Average day and night-time road traffic noise levels were also estimated.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to make reducing air pollution one of his top priorities and announced a global network to tackle the issue while on a trip to Delhi this week.

The project was also supported by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the Department of Health.

AIR pollution from road traffic is putting unborn babies' health at risk, a new study reveals.

The researchers from Imperial College London and Duke University in the U.S. 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. In fact, Oxford Street and other roads in London famously often surpass their legal pollution limit just a few days into the year.

Physical measurements were taken before and after the walks to show the effects of the exercise on cardiovascular health, including measurements of lung volume exhaled, blood pressure, and the degree to which the blood vessels could expand.

Air pollution levels were monitored before and during their walk, and each participant's lung capacity and arterial stiffness was measured before and after.

Chung and Zhang conducted the study with colleagues at the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London; the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit, Royal Brompton & Harefield National Health Service Trust; Peking University; Duke Kunshan University; the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health at King's College London; and Rutgers.

Although the study was fairly small and the walks were short, the researchers concluded that the results suggest the over-60s and those with lung or heart problems should not walk around urban areas with heavy traffic.

Likewise the increase in blood flow usually associated with exercise was virtually absent in those walking along the busy shopping street. 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.

However, walking along Oxford Street did not have the same positive effect, with participants showing only a small increase in lung capacity, far lower than what was recorded in the park, and smaller decreases in arterial stiffness.

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.

"Our findings suggest that healthy people, as well as those with chronic cardiorespiratory disorders, should minimize walking on streets with high levels of pollution because this curtails or even reverses the cardiorespiratory benefits of exercise", the researchers wrote.

'For people living in the inner city it may be hard to find areas where they can walk, away from pollution ... we really need to reduce pollution by controlling traffic'.

Simon Gillespie, of the British Heart Foundation which funded the study, said: 'Telling joggers to avoid polluted streets is not a solution ...

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