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Running in Pollution

stew smith

With the long days of summer, there are more daylight hours in which to exercise. Many people focus on running and outdoor activities. These days, though, it may be best to stay indoors and do another type of workout instead of breathing polluted air during strenuous cardio activity.

In an email this week, I was asked about running during the summer, specifically during sand / dust storms of Iraq. In a separate email I was also asked the same question about running near the cities of the South East Coast of the United States when the summer days are hazy, hot and humid. Both humid and dry summer environments are not the most enjoyable places to run because if dehydration does not slow you down the fine particulate matter that can lodge in your lungs will.

Humid Cities

In the hot and humid cities like Washington DC, Atlanta, and even worse Beijing, more pollutants are trapped in the wet air that we breathe and will lead to many health issues such as:

1 – Reducing lung capability / function

2 – Damaging the lining of the lungs

3 – Causing asthma flare ups

4 – other chronic irreparable lung diseases

Tip to avoid: Do not run in the hottest part of the day and watch for Weather Ozone alerts in your city as the local weather channels / websites will discuss the fine particulate. For instance, check out Weather Channel State Air Quality Tool for up to date information about your city’s air quality.

Arid Environments:

I asked an Army SF Group Surgeon attached to a USA Special Forces Group and he said, “In the desert (specifically Iraq), you do not have the humidity issues of many regions, but due to the dry air - sand, dust, chemicals, and even animal / human feces microbes can get lodged into your lungs especially if you try to run during or shortly after a wind storm in the desert.” The same lung issues can occur as the above because the fine pollutants fly through the air and can get into your lungs and be an irritant at best.

In either environment, you should consider a TRX, weights, or PT workout for the day. I know it is tough to skip a cardio workout when seeking a fitness goal of some sort, but consider the near and long term health goals as well. Many complain of a persistent cough after running in a polluted area, which can last for months. If reduced lung capability is the best you can hope for when running in pollutants and permanent lung damage / cancer is the worst, I would seriously consider opting out of the long hard run until the air clears.

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