How Bad Air Quality Damages Runners’ Health

While thumbing through my recent Runner’s World magazine, I found a short article about running and air pollution. As an air quality activist and a long-time runner, this article fit a cross-section of my interests. It took me back about 20 years, to when I was visiting my aunt in Los Angeles. I went for a run in the dingy haze, on a high traffic street. I learned later it was an ozone alert day. I came back, and my aunt said that my run had probably been the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes.

Did I benefit more from the run or damage my lungs from running during a bad air day?

The article highlighted the hundreds of thousands of runners across the U.S. who are affected by poor air quality daily. City runners are faced with air pollution from vehicles and industry. These exposures can lead to an increased chance of heart and lung disease. Suburban runners are  hit with increased pollution from mowers, weed whackers, and lawn chemicals. Country runners (yours truly) are not spared, either. Agriculture, wildfires, dust from dirt roads (hello, Vermont!) can all cause respiratory problems.

Runners are more affected by air pollution than others because runners take in significantly more oxygen, 10-20 times as much as non-runners. Recent research shows this affect is particularly troublesome among female runners. According to theInternational Herald Tribune:

A study that used the mass of data included in the Women’s Health Initiative found that women who lived in communities with relatively high levels of air pollution in the forms of tiny particles–also known as soot–were far more likely to die because of heart attacks than women who lived in cleaner air.”

In addition, particulate matter found in air pollution can prematurely age a runner’s lungs– and lead to an increased chance of heart disease.

No one is advising runners to stop running outdoors. But scientists urge caution and planning.

Take these precautions when running outdoors (tips gathered from Runner’s World and

  • Check the air quality status before going out running– skip the run if the air index is over 100.
  • Run away from cars and exhaust, if possible.
  • Avoid running close to highways and busy road ways, especially during rush hour.
  • Avoid running on dusty, windy days on dirt roads.
  • Run in parks or near water.
  • Don’t run near major pollutors (industry, factory farms,power plants).
  • Avoid roads with tractors and heavy equipment– they spew pollution and make dust particles.
  • Run in the morning, before air quality gets bad.

*Last, but arguably, most important, fight for stronger air quality protections nationwide. JOIN Moms Clean Air Force and work with us to protect the air our families and neighbors breathe.

The benefits of running far outweigh the risks. But wouldn’t it be amazing if runners (and everyone) didn’t have to worry about air pollution because vehicles, industry, and other polluters were held to higher air quality standards?

Do you run? How does the air quality where you run affect you?



by Katy Farber


Cassie P.
Cassie Jo P4 years ago

The amount of problems we have today is outrageous. If we all concentrated on fixing climate change and not on selling cheap products from China or war we could go far. People don't realise just how serious these issues are for their health. If they did I'm sure more of them would be motivated on finding the solution. Therefore awareness is extremely important.

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

No matter what, physical exercises are for our health and soul

greenplanet e.
greenplanet e4 years ago


Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia4 years ago

Thanks for the tips. I don't run but it's good to know the best hour of day to be outside is early in the morning.

Tim C.
Tim C4 years ago


Latoya Brookins
Latoya Brookins4 years ago

There are bike trails and dog parks near my house.

Sometimes there are runners there when I am walking my dog. She never barks while they are approaching but always barks when they pass by.

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson4 years ago


Irene S.
Irene S4 years ago

Quite unfair! The ones who pollute least, suffer the most.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


Liling O4 years ago

It can get really upset when the air pollution is really bad..
It is good suggestion about running in rural areas, but we have to consider the safety measures.