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Health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the negative impacts of air pollution

Health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the negative impacts of air pollution

Regular physical activity can prevent and help with the management of many health issues, including several lung conditions. However, since we tend to breathe more quickly and take more air into our lungs during exercise, there are concerns about whether being active in polluted areas could do us more harm than good.

In a new study, researchers in the UK have found that cycling or walking outdoors, even in polluted areas, is good for our health overall. The study focused on the general population and not specifically on people with pre-existing health issues, so does not necessarily reflect the response of people with lung conditions during outdoor physical activity.

Their study, published in the journal, Preventive Medicine, involved using computer simulations to weigh up the benefits of physical activity against the potential risks of breathing in air pollution.

The simulations covered a range of different pollution levels to mimic the conditions in different places around the world, as well as a range of cycling and walking distances and intensities.

The researchers found that, for the vast majority of cities, the health benefits of walking and cycling outweighed the risks of air pollution.

In cities with the most extreme levels of air pollution, however, breathing in poor quality air during exercise could start to harm our health after around 30 minutes of cycling each day.

Based on these findings, the researchers are calling for greater investment into infrastructure that encourages people to walk and cycle rather than drive around – citing that this would, in turn, serve to reduce pollution levels.

See our 10 top tips factsheet to help you be aware of air quality when you exercise

Read the original news story

Read the journal article 

Find out more about the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign, which is raising awareness of the importance of physical activity to lung health