The benefits of regular outdoor exercise in areas with air pollution outweigh the risks, a new, long-term study claims.
“Habitual exercise reduces the risk of death regardless of exposure to air pollution, and air pollution generally increases the risk of death regardless of habitual exercise,” said researcher Dr. Xiang Qian Lao, from the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“Thus, habitual exercise should be promoted as a health improvement strategy, even for people residing in relatively polluted areas,” he said.
The study included more than 384,000 adults in Taiwan who were followed from 2001 to 2016 to assess how regular exercise and long-term exposure to fine particle air pollution affected the risk of death from natural causes.
Compared to inactivity, a higher amount of regular exercise was beneficial, even in polluted areas, but less exposure to pollution was better, according to the findings published Aug. 16 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
“Further studies in areas with more severe air pollution are required to examine the applicability of our findings,” the researchers said in a journal news release. “Our study reinforces the importance of air pollution mitigation, such as to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution and maximize the beneficial effects of regular exercise.”
Several previous smaller studies conducted in the United States, Denmark and Hong Kong concluded that regular exercise, even in polluted areas, is beneficial.
“People should not be forced to choose between physical activity and air pollution,” Melody Ding and Mona Elbarbary, from the Sydney School of Public Health at the University of Sydney in Australia, wrote in an accompanying commentary.
“Both physical inactivity and air pollution have detrimental effects on health,” they noted. “Staying active should not be at the cost of compromised health from air pollution.”
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.
SOURCE: Canadian Medical Association Journal, news release, Aug. 16, 2021
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