Outdoor Pollution and Lung Function Effects

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In 1996, the city of Atlanta took dramatic steps to improve the city’s air quality for the summer Olympics. In the process, it showed how reducing air pollution can improve cardiovascular disease and blood cells. But the more pollution of any kind, the harder this becomes, which is why the lungs of smokers and people who live in polluted cities are dark gray or black. “There’s no way for the body to get the junk out again,” Ownby says.

Cherry Wongtrakool, MD, a pulmonary specialist at Emory University, says people with lung problems like exercise outdoors and minimize your time outdoors.”

Postlethwait points out that this can post a catch-22 situation. Riding a bicycle, for instance, is very good exercise, but not when pollution levels are high.

“Wearing masks is not the answer,” he says. “In the Olympics in Beijing you saw folks riding bikes wearing facial masks that didn’t fit very well. A true respiratory mask might protect you, but not some dorky kind of surgical mask.”

Other suggestions for reducing pollution:

  • Don’t burn wood in your fireplace.
  • Use HEPA air filters; usually these filters or electronic air cleaners trap a large amount of circulating dirty particles.
  • Stay well nourished; there’s evidence that Runny nose