Living an active lifestyle outdoors is highly beneficial to our health, but for those living or travelling to and from major cities, air pollution can also be a challenge. So where can we find the right balance?
Air pollution remains one of the biggest issues facing public health. The World Health Organisation estimates that 3.7 million die prematurely from outdoor pollution and leads to an increased risk of heart disease and repertory issues such as asthma; and the problem isn't going away.
Earlier this year, London exceeded its annual air pollution limit within five days of the new year, and at the end of last year, Spain enforced a temporary ban on driving to tackle the problem in Madrid and Barcelona. It was also recently reported that Hong Kong dropped in the global liveability rankings for Asian expatriates due to its chronic air pollution issue.
It is still unclear as to how much exposure to air pollution during outdoor exercise is harmful to our body or which type of chemical pollutants has the most impact over time. And while there is still lots to do to tackle air pollution, we shouldn't dismiss the health benefits of living an active outdoor lifestyle. In fact, some research has shown that the long-term benefits of regular exercise outweigh the risks associated with exposure to air pollution.
Going for long walks, jogs in the local park, soaking in the vitamin D from the sun are great for the mind and body. I personally love being outdoors whatever the weather. I usually do three sets of 40 mile cycle runs a week.
You don't have to leave the urban cities though to get the same benefits of exercising outdoors. You can limit the exposure of air pollution when you exercise in many ways. Here are a few ways:
Check air pollution levels: Most cities and local communities will have a system to monitoring air pollution levels and issue alerts. You can either check your government service or use real time air quality index online, some weather stations and newspapers will report on this too. Try to check these as often as you check the weather and get to know what the usual levels are for your area.
Know when to exercise: Air pollution tends to worsen during midday or in the afternoon, so these are times you could avoid going for a run. This is due to the heat from the sun charging up chemical compounds in the atmosphere - you'll notice these times also tend to be the most smoggy. If you can't change your timings, you can lower the intensity of your workout to limit some of the toxins you may breathe in.
Exercise off the beaten track: Avoid working out in areas near busy junctions and main roads. These are areas which will see the highest concentration levels. Places which have smoking areas will have high pollution levels too. If possible, try to find a place a few streets further from the main road.
Try a mask: It's less common in Europe and Australia to see cyclists wear a filtration mask compared to China, but we should all get in the habit of taking measures to protect our health if the environmental conditions are not favourable. It is not a solution to air pollution but can mitigate the risk of small particles going deep into the lungs.
Climate change is a health concern, and we play an active part in promoting positive environmental practices. World Environment Day is a reminder of the impact air pollution is having on our health and the surrounding environment, and the shared responsibility we have in protecting these. That's why at Bupa we've continued our work in reducing our absolute global carbon emissions by a further 1% to 149.7 ktCO2e in 2016 (representing an almost 25% reduction against our 2009 baseline) through energy efficiency and renewable projects across our business, and the purchase of electricity from certified renewable sources. We also plan to broaden our global environmental investment programme and continued our focus on promoting the use of renewable energy.