Engaging in regular exercise has enormous benefits to our health. Can an environment with poor air quality negatively impact our physical performance and our overall health?
Physical activity is one of the best things we can do for our overall health and the benefits are endless. This includes things like improving your brain and cognitive health, help with maintaining or losing weight, strengthening your physical body, prevention of diseases and many many more. However, exercise involves an increase in ventilation and thus making the environment in which we participate in physical activity extremely important.
When we engage in exercise, our muscles work harder which increases demand on our lungs and heart as it has to supply more oxygen and blood flow. This results in us breathing faster and deeper to meet this demand. The quality of the air we breathe when we participate in physical activity is of extreme importance. If the air we inhale is poor and contaminated with many pollutants, we are then bringing pollutants into our body at higher volumes, deeper into our lungs and at a faster rate. We know the negative health risks of breathing in polluted air are alarming enough on its own, but when our surrounding air quality during exercise is poor, this can magnify the already negative health impacts of poor air quality.
Many outdoor air pollutants include ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and ground level ozones. Major sources of these pollutants are related to combustion from vehicles, machinery and factories. Agriculture and livestock practices can also be a big contributor to outdoor air pollutants. Weather conditions and UV radiation can also cause the formation of pollutants like ozone as the UV reacts with already present pollutants in the air.
Although in some circumstances, indoor air quality can be substantially better than outdoor conditions making gyms and fitness studios a good choice to exercise in. However, studies have shown indoor fitness centers can be just as heavily polluted with contaminants and thus also have negative health effects.
There are the common pollutants found in most indoor spaces:
Emissions From Humans:
Humans are a large source of indoor pollutants as exercise results in heavier breathing, increase in sweat and heat production. All these factors combined with pre-existing contaminants in the air can result in formation of new airborne contaminants. Exercise can increase the emission of chemicals from our body by up to 5x.
Chemical Heavy Cleaning Products
Shared equipment and machines in fitness spaces require constant sanitization to prevent accumulation of bacteria, mold and viruses. This can involve harsh chemicals such as bleach which alone can release gas into the air, but also when combined with VOCs and human emissions related to exercise can result in the production of many other airborne pollutants.
VOCs and Off-Gassing
New gym facilitiesare extremely high risk areas of off-gassing as new equipment, machines and gym accessories are releasing high levels of VOC emissions.
A major disadvantage of indoor fitness facilities is their confined space which can be a problem for adequate ventilation, temperature, and humidity regulation. High occupancy in these facilities can also pose another problem as more people results in more heat, CO2 and chemical emissions.
All these air pollutants can result in poor air quality which can irritate our eyes, skin, nose and other organs. But more severe health effects can include carcinogen affects, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. When exercising in poor air quality conditions, these effects can all be amplified.
The nature in which we breathe also affects how our indoor air quality affects us. Normal ventilation patterns are usually accomplished through our nose which filters out larger pollutants. With higher intensity exercises, we may start breathing with our mouths which provides less of a filter and ultimately allowing larger particles and pollutants and at larger volumes to enter our bodies. This is all regardless of whether we are conducting our exercise indoors or outdoors.
Exercising in poor air conditions won’t negate the benefits of physical activity, but they can certainly harm our overall health. However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t ways in which we can improve our exercising conditions. Here’s what we can do:
If we are exercising outdoors, a great way to approach this would be to avoid areas with high traffic or pollution and choose areas such as parks or beaches.. Timing can also be beneficial to consider as avoiding rush hour times are the most optimal.
When thinking about our indoor spaces, there are many upgrades we can make to improve the air quality:
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