We exercise for a variety of reasons, ranging from the quick effect of endorphins to the longer-term benefits of a healthier age. Is one of them safeguarding against the risk of higher mortality in times that are characterized by high levels of pollution?

With our growing urbanization and reliance on fossil fuels with global warming, there have been rising levels of pollution across many regions of the globe. We tend to think of large cities and smog alerts when concerns pollution, however the rural regions aren’t protected from the effects of pollution. Check out the dust that’s blowing up in Strade Bianche or Paris-Roubaix, and the same occurs when winds blow topsoil from farms.

The issue for cyclists as well as others who compete outdoors is the fact that we inhale plenty of air while exercising that ranges from a resting airflow between 5-10 L/min and 100+ L/min when we do vigorous training. This creates a greater amount of pollution that our bodies have to take on. In addition, the majority of us switch to oral (mouth) breathing in excess of 35 L/min. This reduces breathing through the nasal passages. Additionally, athletes breathe in deep when exercising, which means they are likely to draw pollutants further into our lungs.

Exercise offers a myriad of health benefits across almost every organ in our body. In the same way we’re frequently exercising in a smog-laden environment. Therefore, one of the questions is: Can regular exercise help us avoid extreme levels of air pollution?”

Watch the below video to learn additional information!


Wong CM et al. Do regular exercises help prevent deaths due to air pollution? Preventative Medicine. 44(5):386-392, 2007.

Video Transcript

We are aware that even moderate amounts of exercise can provide numerous health advantages. Could one of them be to reduce the risk of death in times of intense pollutant levels?

In this episode, we’ll look at the results of a study that tracked the natural death rate within Hong Kong over 1 year and find out if there was any connection between the levels of pollution and mortality rates for those who did not exercise and those who performed moderate exercise.

Air pollution is an issue that is affecting several regions around the globe. Most of us consider it an issue that affects large cities due to pollution from heavy industry, traffic, and electrical power plants powered by coal. But, geography may also be a factor, like mountains that could block airflow and trigger pollutant levels to rise in the region even when the source is distant. Rural areas also can experience large levels of pollution caused by dust blowing in from the wind and soil. Ozone and other pollutants are also more prevalent during heat waves and summer because it’s directly a chemical reaction that occurs between sunlight, heat, and contaminants like the volatile organic compound nitrogen dioxide. There’s no uncertainty that exercising regularly has numerous health advantages. One of these benefits could be the reduction of dying during times with high pollution?

This was the subject of a research project conducted by an Hong Kong research group.

For this, they gathered information from a massive project that monitored more than 24,000 natural deaths – that did not include accidents like car accidents and road accidents – within Hong Kong during the 1998 calendar year, which accounted for 78 percent from all deaths that were natural among people over 30 at the time. Through interviews with the next of relatives the level of their physical activity was classified as “exerciser” in the event that they engaged in exercises at least once per month for the preceding 10 years before the date of death. The figure was around 30percent of population. Data was also collected regarding education levels as well as the socioeconomic status of the individuals, their smoking habits, and health past. Temperature, pollution levels, and humidity were recorded throughout the day.

The first question is, what was the traits of people who exercise regularly? They had a higher probability of being females, richer and educated, had less smoking and were healthier throughout the years and months prior to their death and lived longer. This is consistent with current research about fitness in different studies on population across the globe. How did exercise affect death rates during pollution spikes? Each group was divided into groups of people who were over 30 and those over 65 years old. For non-exercisers the death rate increased due to the increase in particulate matter and the ozone level in people over 30. For those over 65 the death rate was more pronounced with these pollutants, as well as greater levels of nitrogen dioxide. Contrastingly, for exercisers, the higher death rates were observed only among those aged 30+, with an increase in sulfur dioxide. This was the case regardless of whether the various groups were matched according to the socioeconomic status of their families, smoking habits or health medical history.

These studies add an additional layer of evidence of the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle. It is important to take note of that there is a very low threshold for exercising in this study. It’s just once a month. This is a great reminder that just a little bit of exercise could go a long way. Although the actual intensity of exercise was not measured The authors speculated from earlier research that the exercise was mostly walking or low-impact exercises like tai chi which is a reminder that we’re not discussing extreme amounts of activity or intensity. If you do reside in an area that is polluted There are a few actions you can take to reduce the risk of pollution exposure when you’re doing your exercise. You can minimize the impact of pollution by exercising in the early morning hours or by avoiding rush time. You can also exercise in parks , far from the main roads, or even exercise inside if there is adequate air circulation. In addition taking a breath through your nose instead of your mouth as well as wearing a mask can assist in removing pollution from the air before it gets to your lung.

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