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Just Breathe (If You Can)




Everywhere you turn, people are concerned with the environment. The green movement has raised our awareness of the importance of being good stewards of the Earth; whether people drive Priuses or simply recycle, we’ve come a long way from the iconic Native American tear being shed.

But not all the way. This is still a significant problem in much of the world – more than one million people die every year due to outdoor air pollution. The main causes of death are tiny particles which enter the lungs and bloodstream, leading to enhanced pulmonary and coronary problems.

There are plenty of places in the world where it still can be hard to breathe. Cities, especially, can be filled with pollutants from car exhaust, factories and smog. Which means that, for instance, if you were at the London Olympics and felt inspired to go for a run, you needed to take into consideration the ozone levels around Trafalgar Square.

For people who like to exercise outdoors when they’re traveling – whether it’s a run in the park, an outdoor yoga class or just a walk to explore a new place – air quality matters. Athletes take in as much as 20 times the amount of air that non-athletes take in, and if that air is dirty it can leave you feeling lousy all day. Over time, the impact can be much more serious, leading to premature aging of the lungs. Ironic, eh? You’re trying to focus on your health but you could be doing long term damage to your health.

Here are some tips on how to get your workout done without beating up your lungs:

Monitor air pollution levels. Many destinations have a system for air pollution alerts. Ask the hotel concierge, or call a local hospital for a report.

Watch the clock. When you exercise matters. Air pollution levels are at their worst in mid-day or late afternoon, after cars and trucks have spent a few hours spewing gunk into the air and the temperature is at its highest. Obviously, exercising at the height of rush hour is a bad idea – it’s like inhaling a bag of ozone.

Avoid high-pollution areas. Running along the side of the road is what most runners do, but it really isn’t a good idea – pollution levels are typically highest within 50 feet of a road because of all of the car emissions. Urban environments generally have higher pollution levels, so if you’re in a city, try to find a park or green area where the air will generally be cleaner.

Exercise indoors. I know you want to get outside and explore while you exercise, but sometimes it just isn’t a good idea. Hit the hotel fitness center when the air quality is especially poor.

Also – and this is important – if you have asthma, diabetes or another condition that impacts breathing and/or blood flow, check with your doctor about when it’s safe for you to exercise.

Photo by LoriAyre.


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Linda Barbara

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