Published: Wed, December 06, 2017
Medicine | By Earnest Bishop

Pollution wipes out the benefits of exercise, study suggests

Pollution wipes out the benefits of exercise, study suggests

Researchers estimated average monthly concentrations of traffic-related pollutants by looking at the mother's home address at the time of birth. They found no evidence that traffic noise was linked to birth weight but "cannot rule out that an association might be seen in a study area with a wider range of noise exposures".

"Combined with evidence from other recent studies, our findings underscore that we can't really tolerate the levels of air pollution that we now find on our busy streets", said Fan Chung, professor of respiratory medicine and head of experimental studies medicine at Imperial College's National Heart and Lung Institute.

"We need to reduce pollution so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of physical activity in any urban environment".

"Air pollution significantly increases the risk of low birth weight in babies, leading to lifelong damage to health, according to a large new study".

The project was again led by researchers from Imperial College London alongside Duke University.

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.

However, that doesn't mean Londoners should suddenly give up all exercise, as the study only applies to outdoor exercise in busy, polluted areas.

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Participants were asked to walk for two hours in two London settings at midday; either in a quiet part of green and leafy Hyde Park or along a busy section of Oxford Street - which has regularly breached the air quality limits set by the World Health Organisation.

The British Heart Foundation says the cardiovascular benefits of a brisk walk along Oxford Street are completely negated by exposure to air pollution for the over 60s. Data analysis was carried out at the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Health at Imperial College London and Kings College London, and the Rutgers School of Public Health in New Jersey. They also point out that there was no resting control group, so they can't be sure that walking contributed to the changes in lung function and arterial stiffness, although previous studies have shown that walking improves arterial stiffness.

In healthy participants the walk in Hyde Park led to a 7.5 per cent improvement in the amount of air they could expel in one breath and improvements in blood flow which persisted up to 26 hours after exercise.

Walking in Hyde Park reduced arterial stiffness by more than 24 percent in healthy and COPD volunteers and more than 19 percent in heart disease patients. In contrast, volunteers who walked on Oxford Street had a "worrying increase" in artery stiffness following exercise. They also claimed that while the study only involved two relatively short walks, the findings suggest that repeated exposures to air pollution would not be beneficial to respiratory and cardiovascular systems.

'Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic'.

"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.

'However, telling joggers to avoid polluted streets is not a solution to the problem.

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