There’s More to Air than Breathing

“You must like living dangerously,“ said Jean. “What do you mean?” asked her friend Richard. “Didn't I see you jogging this morning during rush hour?” “Yeah, what's wrong with that? I was on the sidewalk.” “That's when the air quality index is at its most unhealthy level,“ Jean replied. “You should be very careful about exercising today.” “How was I supposed to know that? Where did you find out about the air quality index and what can I do about it, anyway - stop breathing?”

Do you understand Richard's frustration? He's been told he should exercise, and he does. But then the very air that he uses while exercising could be creating a problem for his breathing.

Richard was breathing through his mouth as most strenuous exercisers do. This allowed traffic fumes which cannot be filtered to pass directly into his lungs. He was drawing in more air and breathing more deeply as he ran. As a result, his body felt the effects of the polluted air more strongly than would a person walking at an average pace.

Polluted air can irritate your eyes, mouth, and throat, and make you sneeze and cough. It can also make your breathing much more difficult and weaken your defenses against infections.

Each time you are exposed to polluted air, your lungs suffer more damage. Smoking cigarettes worsens the effects of this kind of pollution.

People who are sick with heart and lung diseases become even sicker when exposed to pollution. The effects of smog on their heart and lungs could shorten their lives. But there are things that everyone can do to live more comfortably.

Here are five tips for exercising, working, and traveling in polluted air. These can also apply to people who walk or bike for transportation, who drive cars without air conditioning, or who do strenuous work outdoors. 1. Be aware of the quality of the air you breathe. The air quality index (AQI) or pollutant standards index (PSI) are two ways to measure air quality. Also called the smog index, these tell you the levels of air pollution at any time.

0-50 GOOD = Normal activity is OK for everyone.

51-100 MODERATE = Normal activity is still safe.

101-199 UNHEALTHFUL = People with heart and respiratory problems (such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, and some allergies) should take it easy.

200-299 VERY UNHEALTHFUL = The elderly, people with heart and respiratory problems, and pregnant women should stay Indoors. Children should avoid active play and running games. When levels reach 235, they should come indoors. Everyone should avoid such outdoor activities as jogging, cycling, or strenuous work. Irritation to the breathing passages occurs at this level.

300 HAZARDOUS = The elderly and those with respiratory diseases should stay Inside and not be physically active. Not even healthy people should be doing anything outside at this level.

2. On days when the air pollution levels aren't healthy, leave in the early morning or late evening when levels are down.

Air pollution builds up as the day continues and reaches the highest levels in the afternoon.

If you must walk or drive a car without air conditioning, try leaving earlier and coming home later to avoid rush-hour traffic, suggests Bob Day, director of the Environmental Health Project for the National Capital Area Council of Lung Associations, based In Washington, D.C.

3. Avoid activity near traffic areas. A half hour of Inhaling fumes from cars while exercising has the same effect (on the heart) as smoking a pack of cigarettes In a day, says Ron White, manager of the Air Pollution Program of the American Lung Association.

When travelling, try taking a less-trafficked route. Day suggests exercising in an area where there are lots of trees, such as a park. The pollution is reduced somewhat in these areas.

4. If you must pass through busy areas, move through as quickly as possible.

5. When levels are dangerous, don't go out. Follow Day's suggestions if you must go somewhere. Otherwise, stay Indoors with the windows closed and the air conditioning on in warm weather.

If you don't have air conditioning, spend as much time as possible in an air conditioned place, such as a shopping center or a library.

If at any time while you are exercising you feel any bodily discomfort, either in your lungs or your joints, check with your doctor as soon as possible.

Richard still jogs – but not in traffic. He checks the AQI daily and follows the guidelines: He's decided that his health is worth it. How about you?


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