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Pollution can undo the health benefits of walking: Study

News Desk
News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Sun, December 10, 2017 | 12:09 pm
Pollution can undo the health benefits of walking: Study

In essence, the research suggests that the air quality where you walk matters, perhaps as much as the activity itself. (Shutterstock/File)

Despite being so simple, walking is one of the best things you can do for your body.

Studies have demonstrated that the activity can improve your cardiovascular health and even add a couple of years to your life, among other health benefits. New research has shown that where you walk affects whatever benefits you might reap.

In a study recently published by The Lancet, a team of researchers monitored 119 people above the age 60. Forty of the volunteers were healthy, while another 40 had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), an inflammatory lung disease. The remaining 39 had ischemic heart disease, a condition caused by constriction of the arteries.

A group of these volunteers were asked to walk for two hours a day along Oxford Street in London, which typically has heavy traffic, while the other group spent the same amount of time through Hyde Park, a relatively quiet part of the city. After three to eight weeks, the groups swapped routes. Researchers monitored pollutant concentrations on site, along with a number of health markers in the participants, including lung capacity, wheezing and arterial stiffness.

Read also: Walking regularly can combat dementia: Study

In the healthy cohort, it was observed that walking in Hyde Park yielded improvements in health parameters including lung capacity and arterial stiffness. In contrast, walking along Oxford Street — and breathing in airborne pollutants — led to only minuscule improvements in lung capacity and worsening arterial stiffness. It follows that the quality of the air, determined by the amount of pollutants present, can nullify the health benefits of walking.

Cohorts with COPD and ischemic heart disease both experienced negligible improvements in lung capacity after walking in either location. The COPD group displayed more respiratory issues — including coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath — and more severe arterial stiffness after walking in the more polluted environment. People with heart disease also experienced more arterial stiffness after walking along Oxford Street, save for those taking cardiovascular medications.

Lead researcher and professor of respiratory medicine at Imperial College London’s National Heart and Lung Institute Kian Fan Chung suggested steering clear of polluted areas for any exercise. “In London, we have a lot of open spaces, green space, where the amount of pollution is going to be less than what it is outside the park. If that’s not available, people should probably exercise indoors,” he told Time.

A weakness of the study — acknowledged by researchers — is the lack of a sedentary group, which means that it is impossible to say that the act of walking was solely responsible for the changes observed.

In essence, the research suggests that the air quality where you walk matters, perhaps as much as the activity itself. (afr/kes)