The study analysed the health impact of a walk through the traffic-polluted Oxford Street in London, compared to a walk through Hyde Park…
Even short-term (two-hour) exposure to tiny particles of soot or dust found in traffic fumes on busy roads appears to thwart the benefits of walking on the heart and lungs among adults over 60, according to a study comparing the health effects of walking along a traffic-polluted road versus walking through a park. The effect was particularly marked in people with existing respiratory illness.
Stiffening of the arteries and impaired lung function
The study, published in The Lancet on 5 December 2017, suggests that short term exposure to pollution is associated with stiffening of the arteries and impaired lung function, and strengthens the case to reduce vehicle emissions so that everyone can enjoy the health benefits of physical activity.
“Our findings indicate that, in traffic congested streets, like London’s Oxford Street, the health benefits of walking do not always outweigh the risk from traffic pollution. However, this should not be seen as a barrier to many older people for whom walking is the only exercise they do.
Study suggests that “older adults walk in parks or other green spaces away from busy roads”
“We suggest that, where possible, older adults walk in parks or other green spaces away from busy roads”, says senior author Professor Fan Chung from the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London, UK.
The detrimental health effects of pollution were particularly marked in participants with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These harmful effects were associated with increasing exposure to black carbon soot and ultrafine particles, supporting the view that fossil fuel combustion particles are particularly toxic to individuals with cardiovascular and lung disease.
Ischaemic (coronary) heart disease
Interestingly, further analyses found that pollution levels on Oxford Street resulted in worsening arterial stiffness in participants with ischaemic heart disease not using cardiovascular drugs, but had little effect on those taking medication, suggesting that these drugs might have protective effects. More research is needed to confirm this finding.
According to Professor Chung: “Our data indicates that taking medications which improve arterial stiffness such as statins, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers may well reduce the adverse effects of air pollution in individuals with ischaemic heart disease.”
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