Is Air Pollution Making it Unhealthy to Exercise?

A new study takes a look at the pros and cons of exercising outdoors while breathing polluted air.

As spring transitions to summer, the weather becomes more friendly for outdoor activities. The ache to take advantage of warmer weather is something that residents of both small towns and big cities look forward to throughout the cold, snowy months of winter. However, physical activities like biking, running, and baseball can pose an inconvenient question: Is it dangerous to partake in strenuous forms of outdoor exercise while breathing in air pollution?

Well, it turns out their isn’t a clear-cut answer to the question. That said, findings from a new study reveal that outdoor exercise amidst omnipresent air pollution is mostly safe. As New Scientist points out, “walking and cycling are almost always the better options for a person’s health” than not engaging in exercise at all. New Scientist continued with the study’s findings:

But even in these cities, the damage caused by air pollution only outweighs the benefits of an active commute if a person is doing many hours of cycling a week, like a bicycle courier would…Taking breathing rates into account, James Woodcock at the University of Cambridge and his team combined data on the effects of exercise on life expectancy with pollution readings from cities all over the world. They found that even in Delhi – the most air-polluted city in the world – people would need to cycle for over five hours a week before the harm from the smog outweighs the health benefits of the physical activity.

Man running outside to get exercise

Overall, this is great news for those looking to continue their healthy, active lifestyle even with the very unhealthy threat of air pollution looming, quite literally, over them. James Woodcock, the head of the team that took on the study at the University of Cambridge, also points out, “Pollution causes thousands of deaths a year. You’re breathing all this in whether you’re exercising or not.”

In the end, it’s better to take care of yourself through motor-less transportation (biking, running, etc.) to offset breathing particles floating in the air, while at the same time not increasing the amount of  preexisting air pollution.