Many of us live in busy cities where traffic, industrial smoke, farm fires, and other environmental conditions pollute the air. If we ask a pulmonologist about going for a run on heavy traffic roads, we will get a sure answer, “it probably is not a good idea”. Cars, busses, and other vehicles emit huge quantities of fumes. These fumes are slow-moving and hence stay close to the road for a long time. Hence running on heavy traffic roads may cause several health issues such as cough, scratchy throat, etc.
How vehicle smoke affects us
Vehicle smoke is a mix of toxic gases such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene, etc. This smoke often contains heavy metals and other dangerous suspended particles. These tiny particles can get lodged inside our respiratory tract and can derail our breathing process. This initially may lead to cough and throat irritation. The prolonged intake can further deteriorate the situation wherein we can start feeling chest pain, asthmatic, fatigue, and tiredness. Depending on the age, fitness, and medical condition these symptoms may vary from person to person.
When we run, we inhale more air and hence more particles as compared to someone who is walking or sitting around. The harder and longer we run, the more particles and toxic gases enter our lungs. Thus those who are working hard are more likely to get affected than their sedentary counterparts.
Risks vs Benefits
We all know that cardio-workout benefits our cardiovascular fitness. This includes heart, lungs, weight management, improved cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and control over diabetes. However, as our respiratory efficiency goes down, we start losing the benefits of running. Sleep can get disrupted, lung functions may reduce and the overall benefits of a cardio workout may diminish and go into the negative region. Hence there can be no discussion on whether the benefits are more than negative effects. The degree of harm is different for different individuals. As mentioned above the risks vary with age, physical fitness, underlining medical conditions, and other similar factors.
What is the Answer?
If you have no place but a busy road where you can perform your running training there are still a few things which you can do.
- Reduce your training effort. Try run up to twice a week instead of everyday.
- Find a track or trail which is about 500 meters away from the busy road. At such distance smoke climbs higher than the layer of air where you are breathing.
- Try to run on a track where there are lot of trees.
- Run during early morning hours or very late hours when the traffic is less.
- Drink lots of fluids before, during and after the run.
- Mix your training to reduce running time on a busy road. Try do some indoor training, gym workout or other forms to avoid pollution.
- Reduce run intensity. The harder you run, more air you need to make your muscles function. Running easy can reduce the total volume of air you intake drastically.
- If you are running with mask, remember to run a lot earlier. With the mask on, you breath in less air and hence trying to make your run more demanding can actually become dangerious for your heart.
- Listen to your body. Any sign such as hyperventilation, chest pain, cough, throat irritation, etc needs to be addressed immediately. One must discontinue the run, move to an area with less or no pollution. If required, do not hesitate In taking medical advice.
Evidence and studies clearly show that chronic exposure to high levels of pollution can take away the benefits of exercising and running. It is better to exercise away from polluted areas. If it is unavoidable then reduce duration and intensity.
Article by: Capt Jitender Harjai Fitness expert H2F Care