The Hidden Effects of Air Quality on Outdoor Exercise

By BELLA STAAL

We have all heard of cities that are notorious for their issues with air quality: schools in Beijing being closed down for a day because the air is too polluted and children developing lung problems, for example. Rarely is the conversation brought back to the U.S. or cities that may not be as well-known as New York or Los Angeles. With climate change already wreaking havoc, air quality in all cities should incite concern. Coming from a community that loves to be outside, the question is, how does air quality affect the time that we spend outdoors in the Springs and in the surrounding areas? Unfortunately, living in a large urban area and morning jogs outside might conflict more than one might imagine.

Exercising outside is inherently different from just being outside in terms of our exposure to air pollution. Since strenuous movement causes us to breath in more air, we also end up breathing in more pollutants. A study done by Sports Medicine called “Physical Activity, Air Pollution, and the Brain” cited another study which states that an athlete running at an average “easy” pace for roughly three hours breathes in the same amount of air as someone sitting still over two days. Imagine someone who regularly exercises outside; the implications of this can be vast. The adverse effects of air pollution are not limited to pulmonary issues, but also extend to mental function. In the same study, two groups of participants were given identical training programs and then placed in different areas, one in a rural area and the other in a large metropolitan area. After several weeks of training, both groups were given tests to assess their mental aptitude. While the group in the rural area improved from the beginning of the program, the urban group did not. This suggests that exercising in more polluted environments does not yield the same neurological benefits as it normally would.

Luckily, the Air Quality Index (AQI) of Colorado Springs is quite good when compared to other cities of similar size. While AQI needs to be at least 151 to be considered “unhealthy”, COS air quality is rarely over 50, which falls into the category of “good”. Nevertheless, scientists recommend that when running or biking outside we stick to “green areas,” like parks, and avoid being too close to traffic. Now is the time to appreciate the good air quality that we have while still fighting to make sure we maintain that air quality. Arguments about limiting air pollution may seem to focus on extreme cases, but we shouldn’t forget that the quality of the air affects our day-to-day activities and our well-being.

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