How To Reduce Health Risks From Air Pollution

Two red smoke stack

If you live in a major metropolitan city, you may have not as much regular access to clean air as those living in the suburbs or countryside. To minimize the risks of air pollution, consider these four tips.

Keep tabs on what you’re breathing: Check the air quality so you know what to expect for the day ahead. There are several air quality indexes online.

Stick to the back roads: Pollution in the air gets trapped in built-up areas and the concentration levels worsen. This means that busy roads and narrow streets that are surrounded by high buildings are often where pollution is highest. Consider changing your route so that you’re walking along the back roads rather than busy, congested areas.

Exercise first thing: Exercise causes you to breathe harder, which means ingesting more pollutants from the air. If you exercise outside – whether you’re running, cycling or doing pull-ups on tree branches in a city park – it’s better to do so in the early morning when pollution levels are at their lowest.

Check the weather forecast: Still and hot weather can mean pollutants in the air hang around. This applies to more rural areas as well as busy roads. Avoid going outside in the afternoon, particularly during rush hour, when the weather is at its warmest.

If you’re using a mask, get the fit right: While experts say there’s no definitive evidence that a mask will help, there are certain types of mask with submicron filter that have been shown to protect against very small airborne particles – but it’s important to make sure it fits correctly.

If you have one, check that there’s a good seal between your face and the mask so that particles don’t get through the gaps. It’s also important to follow the guidelines on replacing the filters as they do get clogged and stop working. Ordinary dust masks or scarves and bandanas won’t be effective against air pollution.

Masks can make breathing more of an effort, so talk to your doctor about wearing a mask if you have a health condition that might affect this.