Sports, Air Quality: The Undeniable Connection

You’ve guessed it already: air quality is one of those elements you want to check before working out or doing any sports. I’m basing this article on a scientific research studying the connection between athletes’ performance and the air quality levels.

General Impact of Poor Air quality on Health & Performance

As people increasingly move to healthier lifestyles and incorporate exercise into their daily lives, the shift in focus has been more than just diet and workout tips, but how to exercise outdoor in the best conditions, including avoiding air pollution.

Physical exercise requires the lungs to work harder, which is a normal part of exercising.  But as you take in more air under poor air quality conditions, you increase your intake of pollutants, irritate existing lung issues and strain your body with decreased lung function. Also, as the rate of breathing increases, people tend to breathe through their mouths more, instead of through their noses. This is bad news, because only the nose provides some air filtration. The combination of those two elements explains why you’re exposed to more air pollution when you workout outdoor.

The Mayo Clinic strongly agrees and emphasizes the increased health risks when you combine air pollution with exercise. Some of those risks include: damage to the lung airways, increase of asthma development, or worsening of existing lung conditions, and increased risk of lung cancer, stroke and heart disease…

Put simply: DO NOT exercise outdoor when the air is polluted.

You can stay informed and alert of current air quality conditions thanks to our app. Soon, our partners will be providing you smart running and working out apps based on our data. Yay!

How Athletes are Affected

Different countries and regions are affected by varying pollutants and levels of pollutions. While it would seem only logical and fair to build those facilities in clean air areas, this aspect tend to be under looked, and athletic stadiums contribute to the story of air pollution and the negative outcomes on athletes’ health and performance.

One example of this can be found in some stadiums across Germany. The IZA in Germany published a paper by three authors called: Productivity Effects of Air Pollution: Evidence from Professional Soccer. The authors studied the effects of air pollution on soccer players in Germany’s stadiums from 1999-2011 and how particulate matter affected them during games.

Their study revealed that performance was reduced under poor air conditions and players over the age of 30, or those who didn’t sleep enough were at a higher risk of being affected. With particulate matter recorded even at low limits by the EU’s standard, the results were significant enough to make an impact. “Productivity decreases significantly in case the concentration of particulate matter exceeds the EU regulatory threshold of 50 micrograms per cubic meter; the elasticity being −0.16. Negative effects of pollution are yet also found well below the current limits set by the EU, starting to materialize at around 20 micrograms per cubic meter.”

Unfortunately, this problem quickly becomes a global issue when Olympic stadiums that are plagued with smog host athletes from around the world. Rio de Janeiro’s air quality has been described as “deadlier than its water” and has not met the WHO’s standards on air quality in years. Before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Reuters conducted its own research on the air quality just outside the Olympic Stadium, due to Rio’s reputation of high pollution and low air quality.

“The highest readings were at the Olympic stadium – with a peak of 65 PM 2.5 during a June 30 test taken mid-morning, the same time of day athletes will compete.” For reference, in the United States, the EPA sets the standard for PM2.5 at 35 micrograms per cubic meter, for a 24h average.

Although Rio’s pollution levels have not reached that of China’s, it was bad enough during the Olympic Games this summer that NASA documented the issue.

Checklist for Sports Enthusiasts

Now that I’ve scared you with the dangerous correlation between air pollution and sports activities, I’d like to give you some hope: You can still exercise outdoor. You just need to be careful. That’s why I’ve put together this checklist for you, reviewed by Dr PHD Nir BenMoshe, our Chief Scientist.

  • Check air pollution alerts before you head outdoors, and exercise indoors instead if the air quality is substandard.
    Good news #1: air pollution evolves quickly, so check regularly.
    Good news #2: BreezoMeter is soon launching a forecast service, that will tell you in advance when you should exercise!
  • Use a pollution smart exercise app or our air quality app for iPhone or Android
  • Stay away from busy roads to avoid vehicle and traffic pollution. Always look for the less polluted areas
  • Choose the mornings or evenings during the hot summer months
  • Lessen your workout intensity if the air quality is just fair.
  • If you have an existing lung or heart condition, be extra cautious and stay indoors if there’s any air pollution near you.
  • In certain situations, wearing a mask can offer you an additional layer of protection, although it doesn’t protect you 100% from pollutants.

Next time you go for a run, a bike ride, or a kayak race, remember to check the air conditions first. Always arm yourself with information. Your lungs, heart and health are worth the trouble. Good luck with your new resolutions!

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Mordechai Tenzer

Product Content Manager @ BreezoMeter. Passionate about creating meaningful content that can ultimately help improve the quality of people’s lives.