Does Pollution Cancel Out Exercise Benefits?

There's no doubt that exercise has important health benefits. However, the degrees of those benefits are lower in certain atmospheres. Today, we're talking about running outside in cities or areas with high pollution levels.
Does Pollution Cancel Out Exercise Benefits?

Last update: 01 June, 2019

The pollution found in cities can lessen the benefits of exercise. The environmental damage from different industries, traffic, and other polluting factors have become a serious problem– even for simple actions such as going outside for a run, playing tennis or riding a bike.

Over the past few years, researchers have studied the effects of pollution on exercising outdoors. The studies concluded that pollution causes a substantial loss in health benefits.

In response, cities, such as Madrid, advise their citizens to take appropriate measures when pollution levels are high. For example, citizens are advised to use a mask when clouds of pollution sit visibly over the city.

Why does pollution reduce the benefits of exercise?

Moving through polluted areas is toxic, especially if you’re exercising. Before choosing a running, biking or any other exercise route, look for pollution-free areas. This is especially important if you live in a polluted city.

The toxins that come from different fuels harbor various short and long term health dangers for our bodies.

The problem with exercise is that the body consumes at least 20 percent more air than it does at rest or during any other regular activity. That doesn’t just limit the benefits of exercise, but it also multiplies the harm from pollution.

Consequences of breathing polluted air while exercising

pollution consequences

First, heavy metals build up in the lungs, which can’t filter the excess pollution. The harm is compounded by the damages that the lungs can suffer, ranging from chronic bronchitis, cancer to pulmonary edemas.

As for the cardiovascular system, pollution cancels out many of exercise’s benefits. Blood circulation also moves slower, and with less fluidity.

If the problem continues– if you continue exercising in a polluted area— your arteries will become weaker and weaker. As a result, your heart is more vulnerable to all kinds of diseases.

Are there any solutions?

If the high concentration of nitrogen dioxide in the air is the main pollutant, using a mask to help your lungs is a viable solution. Though uncomfortable, these masks filter out polluting particles from the air.

Many people are hesitant to use a mask to exercise after having exercised their whole life without needing one. But people who exercise frequently will notice the change in air quality and discomfort in their airways, among other warning signs as well.

You can find pollution masks in stores and they come in various models. Make a note that some models block out toxic particles more efficiently than others.

Or, you can do low-intensity workouts instead to keep your heart rate slow and steady. Also, keep in mind that air tends to be cleaner in the early hours of the morning.

pollution masks

Recommendations in light of pollution

Clean your nose after exercising. Cleaning out your nose will help prevent irritation and inflammation in your airways. Just clean with water and blow to expel any material.

If you have a chronic respiratory condition, such as asthma, you should avoid areas with high pollution. People who suffer from cardiovascular conditions should also do the same.

To wrap up, remember to stop exercising if you’re having problems breathing or notice sudden exhaustion. In areas with high pollution, the benefits of exercise shrink, cancel out or even disappear entirely.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.