Four Things to Know about Air Quality and Exercising Outdoors
For many people, one of the best parts of summer is being outside running, biking, hiking – doing anything that lets you enjoy the weather and move your body. But, high air pollution levels can have harmful effects on your lungs. Here are a few things you should know before summer begins:
1. Learn about the Air Quality in Your Area
For daily exercising, check your local air quality index to help you determine how clean the air is on any given day. This index will guide you on when you might need to avoid exercising outdoors to protect yourself from dangerous pollution in the air. You can use local media, air quality apps or Airnow.gov to check your daily air quality. You can even sign up to get alerts and check the forecast for tomorrow.
If you notice several bad air quality days, you might want to check how your air quality is overall. The American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report grades counties and ranks cities based on their ozone and particle pollution over a three-year period. The report notes the cleanest cities for air pollution and those with the highest pollution levels. It also allows you to compare how your city is doing in relation to other cities.
2. Be Flexible and Make Adjustments to Your Workout
The type of exercise, the time of day you work out, and the type of pollutant in the air can make a difference in your exposure to unhealthy air. Summertime brings prime weather for ozone (also known as smog), an invisible air pollutant. Ozone levels are often higher in the afternoon, when it is hotter, and prolonged activities that cause you to breathe in more air at a faster rate increases your exposure. If you have plans to go for a long run or strenuous hike, check the air quality forecast ahead of time to see what the air will be like that day. If it is a code orange, plan to go in the morning or choose a lighter activity, such as walking or a casual bike ride. If the air quality forecast predicts code red or higher, move your exercise indoors.
Regardless of the air pollution levels, you should always avoid exercising near highways or heavy traffic, as vehicles are a major source of pollution. Experts recommend being 350 to 600 yards away from major highways, which rules out paths and sidewalks along those areas.
3. Sensitive Groups Should Take Extra Caution
While everyone is at risk of the harms of air pollution, certain people are more vulnerable to the health impacts of air pollution. These sensitive groups include children, older adults, people living with cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and people living with lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They are often the first to feel the effects of ozone and particle pollution, and they need to take extra steps to protect themselves from harm. For code yellow days, those sensitive to air pollution should consider limiting their outdoor activities. For code orange or higher, they should shift their exercise indoors.
4. Be an Advocate to Clean Up Air
Summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors, and no one wants to be stuck inside unable to engage in outdoor activities because the air quality is unhealthy. The best way to reduce pollution is to keep it out of our air in the first place. Help clean up the air by advocating for your lawmakers to support the Clean Air Act and enforce policies that make the air quality safer for everyone. Click here to tell President Trump, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and your members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all pollutants. Additionally, health and medical professionals can sign this letter to defend the Clean Air Act.