Everybody talks about a healthy exercise regime, a healthy diet, and a consistent sleep schedule. More and more people are also taking a shot at meditation, which is also becoming the next fitness and health revolution’s centerpiece. However, there are some basic aspects of human health and fitness (both mental and physical) which are easily overlooked by much of the population. One of these is the need for high-quality air in our everyday lives.
As the saying goes: “one can live for weeks without food, days without water, but only seconds without air.” This is true, but we aren’t as sensitive to the pollutants and toxins slowly poisoning us through the air. In this article, I will show the importance of good air quality for everyday activities and working out, which should not be forgotten, regardless of lockdown rules and COVID-restrictions. If you are interested in finding out more about air quality and its potential impact on your life, read on!
Air Quality Worldwide
Even though there is a massive difference between the least air-polluted places on Earth like the Himalayas, Yukon, or perhaps the Bahamas and the worst places like India or China, and this means that no generalized conclusions should be drawn without care, one can still say with scientific accuracy that our air-quality has dropped on a worldwide scale.
Before the first industrial revolution that spanned over the end of the 18th century and much of the 19th, the air worldwide was a lot cleaner. In those times, before the power of combustion engines drove the world into a mad race for industrial power, most of the work in any industrial sector was done by hand or with the help of animals and mechanical machines (which also needed humans or animals to function as there were no steam-powered engines).
This meant that species on Earth did not significantly increase or decrease harmful material emissions for millions of years. However, after the industrial revolution, there has been a steady or sometimes even exponential rise in the percentage of harmful substances like greenhouse gases, pm2.5 and pm10. This has led to a general decline in air quality worldwide, especially in urban areas where factories, cars, and dense populations emit massive amounts of these substances.
The problem isn’t necessarily because of the air becoming worse worldwide, since some particles were emitted much more in the past than today. Rather, more and more people are moving to urban areas, creating ever-larger metropolises, where air-quality is insanely bad.
Air Quality and Exercise
With the fitness revolution of the past decades, it has become common knowledge that exercising and eating healthy is probably one of the best ways, if not the best way, to prolong life and increase life fulfillment. However, exercising does something which is not a good thing in areas with bad air-quality: it makes you breathe more.
Though the coronavirus pandemic has caused air-pollution levels to drop to the lowest that it has been at in a long time, the large cities that massive populations live in remain affected by the health effects of bad air quality.
It would be best if you never forgot to exercise during the pandemic, and probably the best way you can do that to avoid spreading the virus is to exercise at home. However, the same air outside, the dirty and polluted air, is the only air you can get by opening your windows, which is not good for exercising.
Exercising, as mentioned before, increases the amount of air you breathe. While exercising, and in general, increases your lung capacity due to the many times you breathe more. YOur lungs develop into even more efficient oxygen-absorption systems, and you feel a lot better.
Doing the same in a polluted air environment can cause the same problems that smoking can cause but to a lesser extent. Pollution increases your risk of all types of cancer, other lung problems or breathing problems, and a lot more. It is estimated that about 24 000 people in the United Kingdom die prematurely due to high air pollution, and the overall costs needed to cover the expenses which are related to air-pollution-induced health issues is around £20 billion a year.
Ensure that if you don’t live in an area where clean air is available, try your best to improve your home’s air quality. This can be done the best by investing in a high-quality air-purifier, which can filter out all the harmful substances and particles from the air. Many standard air-conditioning units also have built-in air-purifying and filtering functions. However, these are usually not as good at this job as specialized purifiers are.
What Can Air Pollution Cause, Really?
It is a myth that healthy individuals cannot experience negative health effects from air pollutants. When exposed to air that is not clean, even the healthiest of athletes will suffer short-, medium- and long-term damage.
When you breathe in polluted air, the oxygen concentration in that air is a lot lower than normal. This means that your lungs need to work extra hard to supply the otherwise normal amount of oxygen from the air. Your cardiovascular system also needs to work harder to transport all that oxygen in an ideal time and rhythm.
This puts a strain on both your lungs and your heart and can (and will) increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, lung and heart aging, and a bunch of related illnesses like kidney problems or faster brain degeneration.
All your muscles, organs, and tissues need oxygen to function properly, and depriving them of their life essence to some extent, which is what pollution does, basically means that you limit their function to below-ideal levels. Think of it as constantly suffocating a little bit. This, among the previously described health effects on your heart and lungs, also can increase the speed at which your brain health deteriorates. It can increase your risk for Alzheimer’s, early-onset dementia, forgetfulness, depression, anxiety, stress hyperstimulation, and many more.
Your all-cause mortality (which is the index that shows how likely you are going to die earlier due to the number of factors than you would if you were living an optimal lifestyle) increases linearly with the quality of the air you breathe in daily.
Aside from the problems caused by the lack of oxygen, there is also the aspect of the actual physical damage the pollutants cause. If the aforementioned problems weren’t enough, here is more to convince you even more about the importance of good air quality.
One of the main diseases/illnesses caused by bad air quality is cancer. Pollutants like pm2.5 and pm10 have been shown to increase the risk of cancers in the airway and lungs and anywhere in the body. These materials, and all the fumes, dust, CO2, CO, diesel and petrol particles, etc., are a combination of mostly carcinogens. In a city with a million or more people, there is a thick layer of this (also called smog) very low-quality air that can be visible from afar.
Also, a decrease in lung capacity, a higher chance of pneumonia, more frequent inflammations of the airways, bronchitis, and a lot more are caused by air pollution. This doesn’t surprise us, seeing as air is the most vital resource in our everyday lives.
What Can You Do About It?
The main issue with air pollution is that it isn’t easy to combat it or run away from it. Clearly, the best solution would be to pack your stuff and move to a place with good air quality. However, most people won’t do that. Families would be broken up, and careers would be destroyed (more than what are created, that is), emotional pain would reach really high levels if people decided to move away from the places they love most.
What can you do if you want to live in a large city or any place you love, but know there is air pollution? Well, you could do both micro and macro steps. Micro steps would be things like investing in a good air purifier, getting an air-conditioning system with high-quality filters in it, or trying to find an apartment that is either on some higher floor or away from the most densely populated areas of your region.
Macro steps would be to participate in activist movements and volunteer to work as one to combat air pollution. Try to propose legal changes, policies or other changes in your society which would reduce the density of the pollution, like relocating factories to the outskirts of towns or even further, aiding people who buy electric or hybrid cars, provide a public transportation system that works, or perhaps public bicycles which can be used by anyone.
These might seem out of reach, but every signature and voice counts for any democratic community (most communities on the planet). You could help your region become more eco-friendly for your own good, and the people and animals around you as well.