Go for a run or an extra hour in bed?

“The Air We Breathe” by Brendon Murless

I was on holiday recently and came across this sculpture representing a heart and lungs, in a park and it reminded me of a post that I have been meaning to write for some time. But I did not get around to it until I saw this newspaper headline:

“18 million breathing toxic air, health warning as dangerous levels of pollution kill 40,000 Britons every year”

This is something that I regularly get on my soap box and rant about, pointing out to people who exercise near concentrations of traffic the harm that they are doing to themselves. When I do, a lot of the time, people look at me as if I’m mad.

Michael Colgan, one of the most prominent researchers on human performance over the past 40 years and one of my mentors said:

“People who exercise near pollution would be better off spending another hour in bed”

Unfortunately, many people just don’t seem to recognise the damage they are doing to themselves. I see it all the time; dedicated individuals out exercising, running or cycling, being disciplined and getting out there, but in the worst places!

I have lost count of the times I have seen cyclists or runners on the busiest and polluted roads and have to admit to being puzzled as to why they would choose this place to exercise.

I mean, you wouldn’t go to a spin or aerobics class held in London Victoria bus station, so why would you choose a busy road? There is virtually no difference; with buses, lorries and other diesel vehicles pouring out what we now know to be carcinogenic particulates, it seems madness to assume that you are not going to suck a lot of this rubbish inside you.

And diesel particulates are just the tip of the iceberg. If you look at the common gases emitted by road vehicles you have a real chemical soup including, carbon monoxide (CO), Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), Ozone (O3) and heavy metals.
When you are doing hard cardiovascular exercise you can be using between 12 to 20 times the oxygen that you would use when you are sedentary. You would therefore want to try and ensure, for the sake of your health that the air you breathe in is as clean as possible.

Now, I appreciate in the real world that avoiding pollution when you exercise is not always that simple, especially if you live in a city. I just want to make you aware that you could be undermining all of you hard work and dedication and I want you to reap as much benefit as possible.

So what can you do to minimise the impact of this pollution on your health? Well, apart from exercising somewhere else, you could try and change the time you exercise when there is less traffic about. You could also wear a mask, some cyclists in London do this. If that doesn’t appeal, could you go to a location that is away from intense concentrations of pollution?

It is also worth thinking about making sure that you have a good supply of antioxidants in you diet to help ameliorate the negative effects. I’m sure that you know the sort of thing, brightly coloured fruit and veg!

You may also want to consider supplementing with vitamin C if you are regularly exposed to heavy traffic. Amongst its many benefits is the ability to help to remove heavy metal pollutants found in vehicle exhaust fumes from the body (such as lead and cadmium). Take 3 grams of vitamin C spread throughout the day.

Anyway, I hope that this post has given you food for thought and got you thinking. I know that this is a contentious issue with some people, so I would love to hear what you think and what your views are on the subject.

Many thanks.