Exposure to air pollution counters exercise benefits

07 Décembre, 2017, 01:45 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • PA Archive  PA Images                   Joggers in Hyde Park

And it isn't just individuals with pre-existing heart and lung conditions who experience those negative effects.

Pollution likely has similar effects on people of all ages, the study's authors add. Physical measurements taken before and after the walks revealed the effects activity had on each volunteer's cardiopulmonary health, including lung capacity, blood pressure, blood flow and arterial stiffness.

'When exercising it's best to avoid highly-polluted areas, swapping them for green spaces or even back streets where pollution is lower.

In the study, researchers recruited 119 volunteers through the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, who were over the age of 60 and were either healthy, had stable COPD, or had stable heart disease.

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.

Previous BHF research has shown that long-term exposure to air pollution leads to inflammation in the blood vessels, including those supplying the heart, and promotes the buildup of fatty plaques in the linings of blood vessels, which can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. Not surprisingly, the Oxford Street setting had significantly higher levels of both, including greater amounts of black carbon, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. Specifically, their lung capacity improved within the first hour - and, in many cases, that improvement continued for more than 24 hours. By comparison, a walk along Oxford Street led to a smaller increase during the first hours and no increase later. Arteries became less stiff in those walking in Hyde Park with a maximum change from baseline of more than 24 per cent in healthy and COPD volunteers, and more than 19 per cent in heart disease patients.

Transient subjection to traffic exhaust in built up locations like New York City's Broadway or Chicago's Michigan Avenue can annul the positive outcomes of a two hour walk which would have benefitted the heart and lungs of these people.

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Pedestrians walk along London's busy Oxford Street.

For those participants with heart disease however, taking their medication was found to have a stabilizing effect and may protect these patients from deteriorating in areas with higher levels of air pollution. The results may or may not be applicable to people living elsewhere.

"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.

The authors add that it is possible that stress could account for some of the physiological differences seen between the two settings, with the increased noise and activity of Oxford Street having an effect.

Still, the findings point to how hard it is for many people to personally improve their health when the built environments of our communities do not support - or even undermine - those efforts.

"For many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, the only exercise they very often can do is to walk", Chung said. "But for those living in inner cities, this may be hard to do, and there may be a cost associated with it as they have to travel further away from where they live or work". "Any policies aimed at reducing road traffic pollution in urban environments could therefore help to reduce the health impact on unborn babies and their life-long disease risk".

The findings can be found published online in The Lancet.

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