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What You Should Know About Exercise and Air Pollution

There's been a lot of talk about the air quality in Beijing and how it is going to affect the Olympic athletes. But there is a significant amount of pollution stateside as well, and there are a few things you should know about pollution and exercise.

When you are working out, getting your cardio on, you take about 10 to 20 times the air that you would when just sitting on the couch. That makes sense right, the word "aerobic" often used to describe exercise does mean "with air." Generally when exercising and breathing hard you are breathing through your mouth (try as I might, I cannot breathe through my nose when I am running). This means the air bypasses our body's natural filtration system – the nose. Little particles of pollution then end up in the lungs. The unfortunate irony is that one of the important benefits of exercise is stronger lungs.

While exercising and breathing in exhaust is nowhere as dangerous as smoking cigarettes, there are a few things you can and should do to avoid "polluting" your body. To see them just


  • Avoid biking and running paths that are right next to the freeway. It is best to have at least 50 feet between you and the roadway.
  • Avoid exercising during peak rush hour times.
  • Under the combination of high temperatures, high humidity, and high pollution move your workout indoors.
  • Good times to train outdoors are early in the morning and late in the evening. If there is not enough sunlight to make you easily visible, be sure to make sure you can be seen.
  • Do not use pollution as an excuse to avoid exercise. Be smart and figure out ways to fit working out into your schedule and around times of poor air quality. If you need to get your heart rate up indoors, check out these cardio machine workouts.

Fit's Tip: Air Now is a great website with up to date information on the air quality of many cities and metro areas in the US.


LuckyAnaiya LuckyAnaiya 9 years
I just got back from Beijing I have to admit the air there is pretty bad. All of us, my tour group, were coughing and sneezing away. I even came back with a pretty bad chest cold. It was like as soon as we made it back to Korea everyone was noticing a big diff. I think my biggest issue are my sinuses. When I run it's like they kick into over drive and I need to blow my nose by the time I am just getting in the groove of my run.
Spectra Spectra 9 years
We don't usually have many pollution issues here. Sometimes, the air quality is a little less than ideal, especially in the summer, but I usually deal with it and either work out inside or do a little lighter workout.
Soniabonya Soniabonya 9 years
i generally go to a park where the path is completely away from traffic. i try to avoid walking or biking along the road cuz it hurts my ears and i hate the exhaust fumes. i'll stick to alviso. sure the slough smells, it's windy, and there are bugs but that fresh sea air is worth it.
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
We don't have this problem too bad here, luckily. It's the heat that keeps me indoors. Some days though the wind brings in the yucky LA smog and you can actually feel it. My eyes always hurt on those days. Gross
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
Same here lovely.
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
I just go to a gym...inside...
kristine13 kristine13 9 years
Living in NYC, I definitely have to deal with this. I've had mornings where I've gone out for a walk, and returned home with a headache due to all the car exhaust fumes - it's disgusting! :-(
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