Do you enjoy an evening run in the park? Or perhaps you’ve joined the growing numbers encouraged by the lighter summer months and the pandemic to swap public transport for a cycle trip to work?
While exercise provides a huge range of benefits for mental and physical health, experts are now urgently warning of the potential risks that running and cycling in polluted areas can cause to heart health.
‘Cycling and running are indisputably good for your health. But at high intensity and in polluted areas, there could be more risks from air pollution than we’ve previously acknowledged,’ says Dr Adam Cooper, a GP from Wakefield, himself a keen runner and cyclist.
While exercise provides a huge range of benefits for mental and physical health, experts are now urgently warning of the potential risks that running and cycling in polluted areas can cause to heart healthInsurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Mounting evidence of the role played by pollution caused The European Society of Cardiology to add it to the official list of risk factors for developing heart disease in 2019.
Air pollution is now the second biggest factor after smoking, says Professor Sanjay Sharma, a consultant cardiologist at St George’s Hospital in London and medical director of the London Marathon.
‘Smoking, air pollution and sedentary lifestyle are the three big killers when it comes to cardiovascular risk factors — more important than blood pressure and cholesterol,’ he says.
‘Air pollution kills around 40,000 a year in the UK — 40 per cent of these are due to heart attack and 8 per cent due to stroke.’
Pollution, particularly small particulate matter (known as PM2.5 which includes sources such as diesel fumes and wood smoke), triggers inflammation in the body.
It also increases levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline, and has direct toxic effects on the heart. ‘The effect is an increase in blood pressure, systemic inflammation and a tendency to have high blood sugar and cholesterol,’ says Professor Sharma. ‘These are important in causing heart attacks.’
Higher intensity running and cycling which quicken and deepen breathing are of greater concern than gentle exercise because the harder we breathe, the more air we take in and the deeper it goes into the lungs, says Dr Cooper, who was a GP to athletes at the London Marathon for 29 years.
It does appear the harder and longer you exercise,