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Ozone and exercise

skatey-mark's picture

Okay, so I recently mentioned ozone as a potential health risk in a response to this blog entry... Well, I thought some more about it and decided I really needed to educate myself.

 

Before I go further, though, here are some resources related to ozone and air quality:


Realtime & forecast air quality links:


Some articles of interest I found:



The end result is that exercise on an "ozone red" day should be avoided. It does cause immediate and possibly permanent damage to your lungs. Exercising, of course, increases the amount of air you're breathing, bringing your lungs into contact with more ozone, so it should be avoided.

 

Here are some good tidbits:

 

The recommendation is that athletes avoid exposing themselves to prolonged training or competition at ozone levels above 79 ppb one hour avg. Levels above 120 ppb mean no outdoor athletic exertion, period. The question is not if your lungs will be damaged, even if only temporarily; rather, how much will they be damaged and is the damage becoming chronic.

 

Studies have confirmed the toxic effects of ozone on lung function and yet more studies have found adding antioxidants reduces the power of ozone to damage lung tissue. Even the simple addition of vitamins C and E to the diet of trained cyclists was shown to improve lung function. Dutch researchers gave 500 mg of vitamin C and 100 mg of vitamin E to well-trained cyclists, and another group took a placebo (using a classic double-blind placebo protocol, neither the researchers nor the athletes knew who was getting the antioxidant vitamins). The researchers found that even small amounts of ozone affected the athletes' lung functions and the addition of the antioxidants greatly reduced the negative effect of ozone on lung function of the athletes. It is well-known that the lungs are particularly sensitive to oxidative stress. The researchers theorized that the vitamins may protect the lungs against some of the effects of ozone by reducing the lung's inflammatory response to air pollution (Grievink et al. 1999).

 

Athletes are in an especially high-risk group, for the dangers of air pollution, because of the increased amount of air taken into their body during exercise. According to the American Lung Association, athletes take in up to 20 times more air per minute while exercising. Therefore, if air is polluted, 20 times more pollutants come in contact with an athlete's respiratory tract, reducing lung function and interfering with his or her performance. For example, exercising an hour in a moderate level of ozone and carbon monoxide can reduce lung function and temporarily decrease the blood's oxygen carrying capacity. Moreover, breathing through your mouth prevents your body from using its best defense against pollution--your nose. The nose filters air before it enters your lungs.

 

Ozone irritates breathing passages and can decrease the lung's working ability by damaging the cells lining the air spaces in the lungs. Damaged cells are shed and replaced but if this depletion occurs repeatedly, the lungs could become permanently damaged. High levels of ozone have been linked to increased emergency admissions in hospitals and recent studies released by the American Heart Association show the risk of having a heart attack when exercising at even low levels of air pollution.

 

If you jog outdoors, avoid congested streets. Remember, pollution levels can be high as far as 50 feet from the road.

 

Do not think you are exempt from air pollution if you live in the countryside. Pollution is carried from the cities to rural areas. For example, on most summer days, the mountaintops of the Great Smoky Mountains are shrouded in smog even though they are over a hundred miles away from a city.

 

SO....

 

There may be some hope if you're out on rural roads, but at least one article said it didn't matter. Maybe we need a portable ozone detector that can tell us what the levels are on the routes we skate? Also it appears good ol' Vitamin C might help reduce the damage from ozone exposure... But I guess the safest thing is to avoid it altogether.

 

Still, I'm not sure how practical it is to avoid it altogether and still have a decent training schedule. I can't really exercise in the morning before work, so that leaves 6pm and later. Hopefully the ozone levels are down enough by then that the damage is minimal. Weekends are a different story, I guess. No excuse there not to get out early before the levels are up. Although with less people commuting, perhaps the levels are lower on the weekend? Where's that ozone meter?

 

I'd be curious to hear what others have found out about this. The irony of course is that all this physical activity is supposed to make us healthier, when it could be causing all this damage!

 

- SM -

Comments

skatey-mark's picture

Enviroflash air quality forecasts in your inbox

Found this today, and signed up for it...

 

https://enviroflash.epa.gov/airnow/subscriber/Subscriber.do?method=start

 

You can specify if you want alerts only if certain levels (yellow, orange, red, etc) are reached, and if you want a "short" version that would be more applicable for display on a pda or cellphone. Looks neat...

 

And here's a bonus link that will show you the current conditions and forecast for all of NC... Looks like we'll have a "yellow" day in Greensboro tomorrow for the TTT training skride...

 

http://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=airnow.fcsummary&stateid=38

 

- SM -

 

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