Regular exercise eliminates death risk regardless of exposure to air pollution

Habitual exercise should be promoted as a health improvement strategy.


While regular exercise is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle, air pollution and exercise can be unhealthy. But a new study contradicts this belief. The study suggests that regular exercise, even in polluted areas, can lower the risk of death.

Scientists conducted a study on 384,130 adults aged ≥ 18 yr over 15 years from 2001 to 2016. They wanted to understand the effects of regular exercise and long-term exposure to fine particle matter on the risk of death from natural causes. They found that a higher level of regular exercise than inactivity was beneficial, even in polluted areas.

Dr. Xiang Qian Lao, Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, said, “Habitual exercise should be promoted as a health improvement strategy, even for people residing in relatively polluted areas.”

“We found that a high level of habitual exercise and a low level of exposure to air pollution was associated with lower risk of death from natural causes, whereas a low level of habitual exercise and a high level of exposure was associated with a higher risk of death.”

“Further studies in areas with more severe air pollution are required to examine the applicability of our findings. Our study reinforces the importance of air pollution mitigation, such as to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution and maximize the benefits of regular exercise.”

In a related study, other scientists claim that the combination of exercise and air pollution should be considered as ‘syndemics.’ They both influence behavior and health outcomes. Proposals for safe exercise in dirtied regions, like indoor exercise and avoiding walking and biking on congested roads, can add to imbalances as individuals of lower socioeconomic status often do not have these alternatives.

Drs. Ding and Elbarbary said“Risk reduction approaches that do not address the root causes of noncommunicable diseases could exacerbate health inequalities. People should not be forced to choose between physical activity and air pollution.”

“Both physical inactivity and air pollution have detrimental effects on health. Staying active should not be at the cost of compromised health from air pollution. Addressing both major public health issues through synergistic, upstream, system-level approaches would lead to long-term health benefits for humans and the planet.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Cui Guo, Tsung Yu et al. Effects of air pollution and habitual exercise on the risk of death: a longitudinal cohort study. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.202729
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