Thursday, 14 December, 2017

Unborn babies and old people harmed by air pollution, studies warn

Rickey Rogers  Reuters
A helicopter flies over the Hudson River on a hazy day in New York City Rickey Rogers Reuters A helicopter flies over the Hudson River on a hazy day in New York City
Marlene Weaver | 07 December, 2017, 01:59

The study tested 119 people aged over sixty, 40 of whom were healthy, 40 with a medically-stable lung condition, COPD, and 39 with stable ischaemic heart disease. Not surprisingly, the Oxford Street setting had significantly higher levels of both, including greater amounts of black carbon, nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. But, a walk along a busy roadside led to only a small increase in lung capacity in participants, far lower than recorded in the park, the research suggested.

Walking is a highly recommended form of exercise, particularly for older people, but doing it on polluted, traffic-congested streets can cancel out its beneficial effects on the heart and lungs, according to a British-American study published Tuesday in The Lancet.

Over-60s should avoid Oxford Street if they want to go for a healthy walk, the researchers said.

"The findings from recent Lancet paper are relevant to Australia since some of our busy roads may fall within the poor air quality observed in Oxford Street, London".

Blood flow also increased after exercise, with decreases in blood pressure and an increase in heart rate.

In the healthy volunteers, the reduction in arterial stiffness resulting from the walk in Hyde Park persisted for up to 26 hours.

This effect was reduced when walking along Oxford Street, the researchers added, with a maximum change in arterial stiffness of 4.6% for healthy volunteers, 16% for those with COPD and 8.6% for heart disease patients.

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"However, this should not be seen as a barrier to many older people for whom walking is the only exercise they do".

They argue the study should "increase awareness that prenatal exposure to small particle air pollution is detrimental to the unborn child", but stress that increasing awareness without solutions "may serve only to increase maternal anxiety and guilt".

Commenting on the results, Fan Chung, Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of Experimental Studies Medicine at the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London and senior author of the study, said: "These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk. We suggest that, where possible, older adults walk in parks or other green spaces away from busy roads". "The only difference is that young people are much more resilient", he said. The study also had people take only two short walks.

"Combined with evidence from other recent studies, our findings underscore that we can't really tolerate the levels of air pollution that we now find on our busy streets", said Fan Chung, professor of respiratory medicine and head of experimental studies medicine at Imperial College's National Heart & Lung Institute. Air pollution is responsible for around 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide each year. People like outdoor exercise. "In the United Kingdom physical inactivity is the fourth largest cause of disease and mortality and contributes to around 37,000 premature deaths in England every year".

"This very interesting new study gets round that limitation, by getting the participants to do things they wouldn't necessarily have chosen to do as part of their normal activity", he said.

"While medication for cardiovascular disease apparently protects against acute pollutant effects, is this the way we should be dealing with the problem?"

It's no secret that cities are some of the most polluted places on Earth.

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