Heating up!

June 3, 2012

Outdoor workouts

Summer heat can be stifling. My later-than-usual Sunday run today was unbearable! I found myself trudging up the Harlem hills rather than my usual happy stride, but I made it. Not unscathed, however.

Tonight, my lungs actually hurt. Which got me thinking: how dangerous is it to breathe in hot, humid and polluted NYC air?

After a brief google search and combing through my resources, it turns out that vigorous exercise in excessive heat and air pollution is more damaging than I realized! Remember the media buzz leading up to the Beijing Olympics? Many articles warned of pollution affecting the athletes’ performance. According to the NYTimes:

A 2004 review of pollution studies worldwide conducted by the University of Brisbane, Australia, found that during exercise, low concentrations of pollutants caused lung damage similar to that caused by high concentrations in people not working out.

Given what can be in the air, “people who exercise outdoors should probably be more worried” than many are, said Dr. Morton Lippmann, a professor of environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine.

Fine particles can sail past nasal hairs, the body’s first line of defense, and settle deep in athletes’ lungs. Some remain there, causing irritation and inflammation. Others, so tiny they can bypass various bodily defenses, migrate into the bloodstream.

Hoo boy. So what can you do to avoid pollutants and health hazards but still get your workout on?

  • Time your workouts carefully. Get it done before the hazy sun rises in the sky and prior to exhaust fumes from rush-hour traffic settle in.
  • Avoid high-pollution areas, like near a freeway, highway or busy road. According to the Mayo Clinic, pollution levels are likely to be highest within 50 feet (15 meters) of a road.
  • Monitor air quality levels. On heavily-polluted days, take your workout indoors.
  • Listen to your body. If you’re feeling chest pains, asthmatic or find it hard to breathe, stop immediately.
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