Pollution and Exercising

Recently l made a trip to see my daughter Kellie in Sydney, Australia.  After arriving by plane my wife Sharon and l went for a walk and both ended up with asthma and a little hay fever. No doubt this was an adjustment to our new environment as we live in a much less polluted zone of Australia on the fabulous Sunshine Coast, just an hour north of Brisbane.  Kellie lives in one of the most beautiful places in the world (Bondi Beach, Sydney, Australia)  but it made me think about the effects of pollution on our cardio-vascular system and how this might then in-turn impact our fitness levels.

I then started to wonder what pollutants we were possibly inhaling. Whilst the Australian major cities have so much to offer, large populations in these areas results in an increase in air pollutants. 

Common air pollutants in these built-up areas are nitrogen oxides, aerosols, carbon monoxides, peroxyacetyl nitrate, dust, smoke from industry and pollens produced by the flora in parks.  These particles, whilst minute, do have a way of penetrating our bodies. They are inhaled and mainly affect our respiratory system, which for some individuals may cause asthma, general discomfort and upper respiratory reductions in oxygen uptake.

Carbon monoxide (from car exhausts) is the major contributor to these disorders.  This pollutant can drastically affect performance and irritate the upper respiratory tract.  Oxygen transport reductions can occur when this element combines with haemoglobin in the blood, thereby adversely impacting the transport of oxygen to our tissues around the body. In some cases very high concentrations can then affect the max and sub-maximal performance of the recreational and professional athlete, particularly for those with underlying asthma and bronchial predispositions.

Some hints when training in these beautiful cities:

  • Avoid exercising during the city rush hours as the CO2 levels are increased.
  • Avoid cigarette smoking areas when exercising.
  • Try and work out in the cool of the day avoiding the combination of heat, humidity and greater pollution.
  • Keep the amount of exercise done in very high pollution areas to a minimum.

Be aware of the ozone levels in your area. Australia has one of the highest, even though in recent years we have seen a reduction.

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