Air Pollution May Slightly Reduce Some Benefits Of Exercise For Old People

Maricruz Casares
Diciembre 7, 2017

In the study, researchers recruited 119 volunteers through the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, who were over the age of 60 and were either healthy, had stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or had stable heart disease.

The volunteers were asked to take two-hour walks at midday in two London settings: a busy section of Oxford Street (which regularly exceeds worldwide air quality limits) and a relatively quiet, traffic-free area of Hyde Park.

They call on governments "to impose policies and measures that can reduce traffic pollution so that every individual can enjoy the health benefits of physical activity".

Furthermore, they discovered walking in Hyde Park reduced arterial stiffness by more than 24 percent for both healthy and coronary heart disease patients. These included measurements of blood pressure, lung capacity, blood flow and stiffness of the arteries.

In comparison, when they walked in Hyde Park "all participants, irrespective of their disease status..."

The researchers found levels of pollution - including fine particulate matter, black carbon and nitrogen dioxide - were significantly higher on Oxford Street compared to Hyde Park.

An analysis of the data found that increases in traffic-related air pollutants were associated with 2% to 6% increased odds of low birth weight and 1% to 3% increased odds of being small for gestational age.

Analysis revealed that participants benefitted from walking in the park, with lung capacity improving within the first hour and a significant lasting increase for more than 24 hours in many cases. They asked the volunteers to walk for two hours midday in one of two locations in London.

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Pedestrians walk along London's busy Oxford Street. Healthy volunteers experienced a maximum reduction in arterial stiffness of just 4.6 percent; COPD patients saw a 16 percent reduction; and those with heart disease saw an 8.6 percent reduction.

For those participants with heart disease however, taking their medication was found to have a stabilizing effect and may protect these patients from deteriorating in areas with higher levels of air pollution.

The conclusion was reached by scientists from Imperial College London, who measured the health boosts that people aged over 60 received from a brisk walk in the capital. "The research was conducted in London, U.K., but its implications for many millions of women in cities around the world with far worse air pollution are "something approaching a public health catastrophe", the doctors involved said..."

Although the team noted that stress could be a contributing factor, with the increase in noise and the number of people on Oxford Street another reason behind the physiological differences observed, the new findings still add to the growing body of evidence on the dangers of urban air 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.

'Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic'.

Fan Chung, professor of respiratory medicine and head of experimental studies medicine at Imperial College's National Heart & Lung Institute said that according to the findings underline that we can not stomach the levels of air pollution that we presently experience in our busy streets. "But for those living in inner cities, this may be hard to do, and there may be a cost associated with it as they have to travel further away from where they live or work". "That should allow everyone to be able to enjoy the health benefits of physical activity in any urban environment".

FMI: You'll find the study on The Lancet's website.

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