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When Fresh Air Isn’t

  • April 1, 2011
  • 6:01 pm
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Your Body on Bad Air

Pollution affects more than just your airways, says former air pollution scientist Kenneth Rundell, Ph.D. When you inhale airborne contaminants, your body launches a defense against “foreign invaders,” which then causes inflammation. Over time, chronic inflammation can wreak havoc on every organ system. So it’s not surprising that long-term exposure to bad air has been linked to a host of health problems—ironically the very conditions that regular exercise helps prevent—including high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, decreased immune function, and certain cancers. One Canadian research team mapped levels of traffic-related air pollution in Montreal against breast-cancer diagnoses. They found that women living in locations with the worst air pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those in the cleanest areas, says Mark S. Goldberg, Ph.D., one of the researchers and a professor in the department of medicine at McGill University.

If all this makes you want to strap on a gas mask every time you head outside, take comfort in this: Your lungs have several built-in cellular cleaning mechanisms that help neutralize irritants and rid the body of them, so you’ll most likely recover pretty quickly from an occasional dose of dirty air.

How antioxidants fight disease and keep you youthful—inside and out.

The bigger concern is what happens after years of repeated exposure. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency likens breathing high levels of ozone to getting sunburned. Do it once or twice and you’ll be OK; do it all the time and you could wind up with permanent damage.

That’s not to say you should retreat to the gym forever. “No one in their right mind would say never exercise outdoors,” says Greenbaum. “There are so many physical and mental benefits.” Even small amounts of sunlight boost blood levels of vitamin D (a critical nutrient related to bone strength, immune function, and yes, lung health). Natural terrain challenges your muscles and balance better than any gym machine. And being outdoors is a proven mood booster. One study found that even recalling outdoor exercise can improve your outlook. You just need to be safe about exercising outside.

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Rodale is a new original source for daily news, information, and advice on personal and environmental health. focuses on “Where Health Meets Green” topics, providing daily news stories and breaking news along with easy-to-follow, high-impact tips and advice.


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8:00PM PDT on Jun 13, 2011


2:31PM PDT on May 24, 2011

It's 5/24 and I'm catching up on Care2 emails again. Been pretty busy lately. And have pollution symptoms in lungs. But usually am indoors. And have windows open a lot, trying not to use a/c a lot because have heard that refrigerants in them a problem. Refrigerants like in them mess on air, and cause temp of it to warm? And when you run a/c's globally to stay cool, if this manage to heat air while a/c in use, it tragedy with global warming problems. And had apt. shut tight not long back, but got whiff of outdoor air before heavy rain cleansed it. Have had persistent dry cough, dry and/or scratchy throat, think maybe third symptom too. Not getting out much to exercise, or doing much physical activity indoors either. And do believe in antioxidants, but can't afford much food on low doles. Do try to keep good multiple supplements in me at least. And had forgotten to take C for a while. Maybe it help to start again tonight.

6:59PM PDT on May 21, 2011

Air is crucial, thanks!

2:54AM PDT on Apr 14, 2011

The air pollution angers me so much, I'm happy I don't live in a state with a lot of smog, because there's no way I'd stop going outdoors. I appreciate the fresh air I do get so much, as should everyone, because who knows how much longer we'll have it.

6:55PM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

Thanks for trying to help.

5:42PM PDT on Apr 12, 2011

Boo to air pollution

11:33PM PDT on Apr 6, 2011

thanks for sharing

10:32AM PDT on Apr 6, 2011

Thanks for the antioxidants tip! I will be eating my broccoli going forward!

For business owners who want to reduce their carbon footprint and air pollution, check out my company, Greenzu. We provide commercial solar without any upfront cost. Just buy the clean electricity.

2:18PM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

I never gave this very much thought, so now I know. Thanks Rodale.

8:16AM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

I used to live at the very edge of our city meaning after our neighborhood was farms now it has grown around us and more traffic and the air smells of car exhaust (yuk) my daughter has asthma and she is coughing more also we drive a hybrid but everyone else doesn't

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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