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home : health : health September 23, 2017

8/21/2017 5:29:00 PM
Smoky and smoggy - should you exercise?
By Andrew Loscutoff

Sisters Country is not uncommon to a little atmospheric smoke and haze during the dry days of summer fire season when wildfires happen.

Smoky morning haze from a faraway fire with a nighttime inversion and breeze bring light smog and a minor annoyance. This year, however, all residents of Sisters are on high alert as the Milli fire blew up due to a high-wind day which took the fire from a manageable size to thousands of acres in hours.

Air quality plays a role in everyday life, but especially during exercise. As a person begins exertion, their lungs, heart, and energy metabolism increase. Usually, a breath is taken through the nose where fine hairs work as a filter. Exercise usually prompts of breathing through the mouth. Thus, any particles in the air have a clean passage into the body.

When these particles get into the airway, there can be an asthmatic response, inflammation, and discomfort. These particles may also increase risk of heart attack and stroke by way of oxidative stress on the body. Other acute symptoms include dizziness, headaches, weakness, and tightness in the chest. It's interesting to note that the number hospital admissions for lung and breathing conditions are directly correlated to the air quality. It also appears that a response to smoke is almost that of allergy; it has a genetic component and everyone responds to a varying degree.

In research on the matter, there is little to be said regarding forest fire smoke, but there is a lot of work looking at air pollution from city life. One anecdote: A mountain bike race in China, where many professionals were lined up in order to prepare for the Olympic conditions, saw 42 of the 50 contestants drop out. This was attributed to the terrible air quality in Beijing.

This is alarming to many who work out, but looking at other research is startling because there also seems to be a protective effect for someone who is already fit. In British Columbia, research exposed mice to diesel exhaust - one group who were fit mice, exercising 5 days per week, while the others were couch potatoes. The results were surprising, because the mice who were sedentary exhibited far greater inflammatory and oxidative responses, whereas the fit mice only saw a small spike.

This tends to show that the body that is exercising seems to handle stressors better.

The next example simply looked at whether the benefits of exercise outweigh the negatives of the air quality. In reality this all is dependent on the status of the air. The Netherlands correlated the negative exposure of commuting cyclists to a net loss of 1-40 days of healthy life, while the benefit of the exercise was life extending from 3-14 months.

Recommendations for exercise again are dependent on the conditions. Here are some tips; if a person is healthy, shows no sign of asthma or COPD then it is perfectly OK to exercise in moderate conditions (yellow to orange on the air quality index). Exercise in the afternoon when winds are usually helping to move the smoke out and higher into the atmosphere. If the smoke is bothersome, an indoor workout is advised. Last, use a mask. The N-95 rated masks block out 95 percent of particulate matter. These however do restrict a little and can cause shortness of breath.

Overall, these days of polluted skies from smoke are only a snapshot of usually crystal clear skies we get to enjoy. Keep this in mind, as a few days of adjusted exercise will not be a detriment. Use good judgment, and if the quality turns from orange to red, look at an indoor workout. A healthy diet, fit body, and low stress will all equip you to deal with nuisances like a smoky morning.

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