With urban air pollution worsening and experts believing that it affects mortality rates, it's essential for us to pay attention to the air quality around us. Here are ways to improve your air quality
Air pollution, though causing significantly fewer health problems than smoking, can also be a risk factor for heart disease. The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is currently funding research into the impact of air pollution on heart disease and should have conclusive results in a few years’ time.
"Certain pollutants have an inflammatory effect on the inner lining of arteries, which can trigger atherosclerosis"
Experts believe variations in levels of urban air pollution affect mortality rates; certain pollutants are thought to have an inflammatory effect on the inner lining of arteries, which can trigger atherosclerosis. They may also cause inflammation of the lungs, which could aggravate existing lung problems.
High traffic hurts hearts
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A German study has found that people caught in traffic are three times more likely to have a heart attack within the hour than those who are not stuck in a jam. Researchers could not say for sure whether the heart attacks were due to traffic-related stress or exposure to high levels of air pollution, but because people using public transport were also affected, pollution seemed the more likely culprit.
The pollution risk comes from ozone and particulate matter—a very fine soot. Both are generated by cars, trucks and factories. When you breathe in particulate matter, it irritates your airways and triggers an inflammatory response, which, like all inflammation, accelerates plaque build-up and narrowing of the arteries.
"Heart-healthy activities such as jogging or cycling can be harmful if done in areas with poor air quality"
The connection between air pollution and ill health is now well established. Smog, dust, woodsmoke and other forms of air pollution pose particular health concerns, especially for people with cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease.
A study showed that, across the UK, people who live near main roads have an increased risk of death from stroke. If this link is causal, rather than coincidental, it means that many stroke deaths a year may result from road traffic pollution. Even heart-healthy activities such as jogging or cycling can be harmful if done in areas with poor air quality.
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There is not much you can do to change the air that you breathe when you go outside. However, there are several things that you can do to limit your heart’s exposure to the damaging effects of dirty air.
1. Check air quality
There are numerous websites covering the daily weather situations in the UK, including smog forecasts. Search online, and also check out sites concerned with climate change.
2. Avoid rush hour
Even if the air in your area tends to be clean, avoid exercising outside—including cycling or jogging—during rush hour when vehicle emissions are highest. Your best bet is to exercise very early in the morning and avoid main roads.
"Avoid exercising outside during rush hour when vehicle emissions are highest"
3. Stay away from smokers
While certain bars, restaurants and public spaces are banning smoking on their premises, it can still be difficult to completely avoid second-hand smoke. The bad news is that exposure to second-hand smoke from just a single cigarette each day speeds up the development of atherosclerosis. When someone lights up near you, move away.
4. Go green
Good insulation and double glazing may save money on your heating bills, but they can wreak havoc with your home’s air quality. Get some house plants, especially palms, peace lilies and dracaena varieties which act like air filters.
5. Eat your anti-oxidants
Anti-oxidant nutrients, such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene, protect your heart and lungs from the ill effects of pollution-induced free radical damage. But don’t rely on supplements; eat fresh fruits and vegetables. In smokers, beta-carotene supplements alone may increase the risk of lung cancer.
6. Use your nose
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