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Study shows beneficial effects of physical activity are not changed by increased exposure to air pollution during exercise

Study shows beneficial effects of physical activity are not changed by increased exposure to air pollution during exercise

Researchers have found that the long-term health benefits of physical activity are not changed by exposure to high air pollution levels in an urban setting.

A large proportion of Europe's population live in areas with unhealthy outdoor air, which is known to increase risk of short-term lung health symptoms and long-term risk of lung conditions.

When a person is physically active, they breathe more often and take more air into their lungs than when they are inactive. If the air quality is poor, they may breathe in a larger amount of harmful pollutants. However, not being active is also known to be a significant risk for health, so researchers are keen to weigh up the potential benefits against the risks.

This new study looked at 53,113 participants aged between 50-65 years from Denmark, who, as part of a large health research project, reported their levels of physical activity between 1997 and 2013. Researchers looked at this alongside information on hospital admissions for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to see if there was a relationship between a person’s levels of activity and their lung health.

The results revealed that increased exposure to the pollutant nitrogen dioxide (NO2) did increase the risk of hospitalisation for asthma and COPD, showing harm caused by exposure to pollutants.

However, the data also suggest that regular exercise lowered the risk of a person needing to go to hospital because of their asthma or COPD. In addition, the researchers found that the benefits of physical activity were not outweighed when exposure to air pollution was considered.

If you are unsure about the type or amount of activity you should do, you could ask your healthcare professional for advice.

You can find information and advice on exercising with a lung condition, along with the risks associated with exposure to air pollution in some of our factsheets below.

Read the full study.