Research

Danish Study Explores Air Pollution as Perceived Barrier to Exercise

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According to research from the University of Copenhagen, in Demark and sites with similar air pollution levels, the benefits of exercise may outweigh the harmful effects of air pollution, in relation to the risk of premature mortality. The study indicates that in spite of the adverse effects of air pollution on health, air pollution should not be perceived as a barrier to exercise in urban areas.

In the release, Zorana Jovanovic Anderson, PhD, MSc, BS, associate professor, the Centre for Epidemiology and Screening at the University of Copenhagen, emphasizes “Even for those living in the most polluted areas of Copenhagen, it is healthier to go for a run, a walk, or to cycle to work than it is to stay inactive.”

Anderson adds that air pollution is often perceived as a barrier to exercise in urban areas. However, “In the face of an increasing health burden due to rising physical inactivity and obesity in modern societies, our findings provide support for efforts in promoting exercise, even in urban areas with high pollution.”

Researchers still advise, she points out, that “people exercise and cycle in green areas, parks, woods, with low air pollution and away from busy roads, when possible.”

The release reports that the study was a large population-based, prospective cohort study that investigated the joint effects of both physical activity and air pollution on mortality. It is based on data on both physical activity and air pollution exposure.

The Danish study, the release says, encompassed 52,061 participants, aged 50 to 60 years old, from two main cities Aarhus and Copenhagen, who participated in the cohort study Diet, Cancer and Health. From the years 1993 to 1997, the subjects reported their physical leisure activities, including sports, cycling to/from work and in their leisure time, gardening and walking. The researchers then estimated air pollution levels from traffic at their residential addresses.

The release notes that 5,500 participants passed away before 2010, and the researchers observed 20% fewer deaths among those who exercised than those who did not exercise, even for those who lived in the most polluted areas, in central Copenhagen and Aarhus, or close to busy roads and highways.

Anderson also points out that it is important to note that the results “pertain to Denmark and sites with similar air pollution levels, and may not necessarily be true in cities with several fold higher air pollution levels, as seen in other parts of the world.”

The research appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives

Source: University of Copenhagen – Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences