Exercising in Smog: How Bad Is It?

As the weather gets warmer, the smog warnings increase. I enjoy exercising outdoors in the summer, but I wonder: is smog a danger to my exercise regime?

Yes, smog has a strong effect on your physical performance because it affects your aerobic capacity. Your aerobic capacity is the highest amount of oxygen you can consume during exercise.

You may know your body needs to get oxygen into your muscles if you are exercising for more than a little time like several minutes. The reason for this is that your muscles will become fatigued or stop working simply in case they don’t receive the oxygen which they need.

Smog is a byproduct of chemical reactions, which include carbon monoxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide. How smog affects you depends on your body’s ability to filter it in your respiratory system. Smog can inflame breathing passages, decreasing the lungs’ working capacity, and causing shortness of breath, pain when inhaling deeply, wheezing, and coughing. It also has the ability to irritate the eyes, nose, and throat.

Your respiratory tract serves as barrier for the body. When you are doing ‘everyday’ breathing, your mouth is closed and you breathe mainly through your nose. (This is a fantastic filter!)

When you are engaged in aerobic activities such as running, biking, or jogging, you breathe through your mouth; this route does not have strong filtration, and therefore more smog can reach your lungs. When that happens, the pollutants are diffused into the bloodstream and circulated through the body. Because the lungs are busy diffusing the smog, you have less oxygen reaching your muscles. This results in a substantial decrease in your physical performance.

Throughout the summer you can check smog levels online. A smog watch means there is a 50 per cent probability of smog within the next three days. A smog advisory is issued when there is a high probability of elevated smog levels within the next 24 hours. In general, smog levels tend to be the lowest before 7 am and after 8 pm. Smog levels are at their highest in the afternoon after the sun has ripened the mixture.

We all know that those suffering from heart and lung conditions should be extra cautious on smoggy days, but did you know that fit people are in an especially high-risk group? This is due to the increased amount of air taken into the body during exercise. Athletes take in up to 20 times more air per minute while exercising. This means that if air is polluted, 20 times more pollutants come in contact with your respiratory tract; couple that with the fact that your blood is pumping at an accelerated rate….well you do the math.

Take care of yourself on smoggy days by planning your outdoor exercise before 7 am or after 8 pm (keep in mind that even at these times smog may enter your body). Keep yourself away from car exhaust by exercising in parks or along low-traffic roads. Be sure to drink plenty of water, at least 1 liter more than usual, and take frequent rests.

It is also important to ease your expectations of your workout. If you have difficulty breathing, or experience coughing, chest pain, nausea, headache or feel weak, this is your body’s signal to slow down. If you feel dizzy, nauseous, or your vision becomes blurry, stop immediately and find a cool place. If your symptoms continue, seek medical help.

While we may not all enjoy air conditioning, it does provide a safe filter for smog. I do recommend exercising indoors on hot smoggy days.

About Author:

Sarah Brown – A very healthy woman who is a fitness instructor at Goodlife.