Environmental stories are everywhere these days, especially with our recent spate of catastrophic storms. From plastic-trash islands in the ocean to metropolitan cities with air too polluted for prolonged exposure, the stories span the globe and require creative solutions. All the news got us thinking: How do environmental factors, such as pollution, impact athletes? Clearly, on a heavy smog day in Beijing, no one is cycling or running. But what about smaller cities or those we don’t think of as being so polluted?
A recent piece in The New York Times highlighted a scientist and his team looking into this exercise/pollution issue. His underlying question: In a polluted area, how long do the benefits of outdoor exercise outweigh the risks associated with air pollution? The Times piece focuses primarily on a study being conducted by Dr. Darby Jack at Columbia University and the public radio station WNYC. Their focus wasn’t just a general look at pollution, but specifically PM 2.5. This fine particulate patter includes black carbon—the main ingredient in soot—that “penetrate[s] deep into the lungs and bloodstream and may lead to the development of respiratory illnesses like asthma and lung cancer.”
The study currently involves 40 cyclists in New York City who monitor pollution levels along their routes. The equipment they wear as they cycle also tracks their heart rate and blood pressure, looking for correlations between pollution levels and cardiovascular system strain.
While the study is ongoing and much of the data is still raw, there are inferences Dr. Jack and his team can already draw. For instance, it appears that these cyclists are getting over half of their daily air pollution intake in only a few minutes of their day—during the daily commute. Some other early data suggest that simple changes can make a big difference. For instance, cyclists in lanes separated from active traffic by a row of parked cars inhale significantly less pollution than those riding directly alongside traffic. Also, cyclists taking the same route home as they do to work in the morning ingest less pollution, as evening winds are stronger and more frequent that morning breezes.
The data from this and similar studies conducted in large European cities with roughly the same pollution as US cities is thus far encouraging. The studies suggest that, despite pollution and even traffic risks, cyclists in those cities have better health and longer lives than their counterparts. The study does, however, point to some helpful tips cyclists—and anyone exercising outdoors—in a metro or heavy traffic area can use. First, plan your route away from heavy or congested traffic. If roads are less traveled or traffic moves faster a block or two over from your current route, consider a move. Second, if you can put some distance between you and traffic, do it! Choose cycling lanes separated from traffic by a parking row. If you’re running, stick to the interior of the sidewalk and take detours through parks if you can. Third, if you’re cycling/running for exercise instead of going to work, choose low-traffic times of day. Head out really early to beat the commute or morning rush or squeeze in your workout at lunch if your schedule allows. Fourth and finally, fight back! Make sure you’re loading your diet with antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables to stave off the inflammation associated with pollution exposure.
So, there is some pretty good news for runners and cyclists alike. Want more? We can also tell you about the only scientifically proven product to treat and prevent muscle cramps. It’s us. HOTSHOT will stop cramps in their tracks. If cramps are slowing you down, stop over here and pick up a pack of relief (or, even better—prevention) before your next big day. And don’t forget to keep in touch. We’re always around over on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.