Unborn babies and old people harmed by air pollution, studies warn

Rickey Rogers  Reuters
A helicopter flies over the Hudson River on a hazy day in New York City

Rickey Rogers Reuters A helicopter flies over the Hudson River on a hazy day in New York City

The British Heart Foundation says the cardiovascular benefits of a brisk walk along Oxford Street are completely negated by exposure to air pollution for the over 60s. They also reported more coughing, shortness of breath, sputum and wheezing.

Prof Stephen Holgate from Southampton University and special adviser to the Royal College of Physicians on air quality, said: "The observation that air pollution encountered on a high street in London removes any health protection produced by exercise outdoors is yet another demonstration that pollution is eroding the health of ordinary people".

The Lancet study included 119 adults aged 60 or over, including 40 healthy volunteers, 40 with stable COPD and 39 with stable ischaemic heart disease.

Patients walked for two hours in two London settings at midday; in a "relatively quiet" part of Hyde Park and along a section of Oxford Street.

The lecturers point to the improvement of air quality in Berlin during the 2008 Olympics as an example of what can be achieved, but said the challenge is to maintain reductions in pollution in the longer term with measures such as reducing congestion and tackling diesel emissions.

Noise and pollution levels were significantly higher on Oxford Street, including increased levels of black carbon, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. Specifically, their lung capacity improved within the first hour - and, in many cases, that improvement continued for more than 24 hours.

The team highlighted that some of the benefits from walking in the park could be impacted by more pleasant surroundings and reduced stress, but they believe this does not account for the significant difference they saw. When middle-aged Londoners were forced to walk in either green and lovely Hyde Park, or along traffic-clogged Oxford Street nearby, their hearts and lungs spoke the truth. It decreased it by 19 percent for those with ischemic heart disease. Then, a few weeks later, they walked in the other location. That benefit disappeared - or even reversed itself - after walking on Oxford Street. The results may or may not be applicable to people living elsewhere.

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The maximum and minimum temperatures are likely to hover around 23 and 11 degrees Celsius respectively on Tuesday. The AQI, as recorded by the CPCB, also reflected the rise in the levels of these ultrafine air-borne particulates.

Asian pollution is one or two orders of magnitude greater, and similar studies should be done at that level of pollution, he said. It can't tell us, therefore, what the long-term benefits (or non-benefits) of exercise are in relation to pollution.

Still, the findings point to how hard it is for many people to personally improve their health when the built environments of our communities do not support - or even undermine - those efforts.

Commenting on the results, Fan Chung, Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of Experimental Studies Medicine at the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London and senior author of the study, said: "These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk".

"Instead, walking exercise should be enjoyed in urban green space areas away from high density traffic".

That was important, because other studies trying to tease out the effects of exercise, or pollution, or both, haven't been able to show whether there is something different about people who choose not to exercise, or those who live in polluted areas. "However, we know from other research that for the vast majority of the population, the benefits of any physical activity far outweigh any harm caused by air pollution, except for the most extreme air pollution concentrations".

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 6, 2017 (HealthDay News) - The beneficial cardiopulmonary effects of walking are attenuated when walking in a traffic polluted area, according to a study published online Dec. 5 in The Lancet.

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