Where exercise does more harm than good
It is a commonly accepted fact that exercise is generally good for you. Keeping yourself in good shape with a combination of healthy eating and plentiful exercise is an important part of life. Unfortunately, it seems that at least one of those might not be an option for people in some cities around the world.
A study published in the medical journal Preventive Medicine, and since taken up by the World Health Organisation, has modelled the effects of air pollution on active travel – exercise – with some pretty shocking results.
In many cities around the world, the benefits of cycling or running are outweighed by the damage done by air pollution in a very short time. For instance, in Allahabad in India or Zabol in Iran, this ‘tipping point’ occurs after only half an hour. Other severe cases include Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, where the tipping point is 45 minutes, and Delhi in India and Xingtai in China, both of which will start to affect people who exercise within an hour.
These results were measured in terms of PM2.5s – tiny pollutant particles which get into the lungs and embed themselves there. These can be naturally occurring if there is a lot of dust or a forest fire in the area, but the main cause is motor vehicles and manufacturing, which explains why the most badly affected cities are in the developing world.
The dangers of inhaling too much dangerous particulate matter are legion and have been definitively linked to increased levels of pneumonia, heart disease, strokes and cancer, among many other tragic things. It is worth noting that the study did not consider the effects of short term spikes in dangerous matter, only the effects of longer term exposure. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation rank these PM2.5s, and other forms of particulate matter, among the top risk factors for loss of health worldwide.
In fact, air pollution is the leading cause of death worldwide which can be linked to environmental factors, killing more than seven million people every year – one out of every eight deaths in the world. It accounts for more than two million deaths in China and India alone every single year.
As the world becomes more and more choked with fumes, and cities become larger and larger, this number is only likely to increase. By any measure this has the makings of a global catastrophe, but the solution is not so easy to see when you consider that the deaths are a direct result of the economic system which runs the world. Without a major political change, millions of people will continue to die as a result of free market capitalism every single year. Unfortunately it is currently the accepted price of doing business.