As today is another incredibly hot summer’s day in London, we thought we’d explore what can be done to minimise the impact of breathing in pollution if you’re walking, jogging or cycling in London. Whilst some of us commute to the UK’s capital city from the suburbs using our own vehicles or public transport, many Londoners living near their place of work will want to get there under their own steam. This is great of course, but aside from cutting down on travel costs, is it actually doing our heart and lungs any good? Well, you’d assume that any form of exercise would ultimately be beneficial, but this isn’t necessarily the case. If you live well outside of London, then this is more likely to be true – But in the thick, pollution filled streets of Central London, it can actually do you more harm than good. Astonishingly, London has already hit its entire yearly air pollution quota in just one month into 2018; and that’s just during a cold January!
Why is London so bad?
The obvious answer is the sheer volume of traffic on London’s roads. Whilst this is certainly a huge factor, it’s not the only reason. The sheer density of building combined with their height is also contributing to the problem. If you have many tall buildings in a small area, it traps the air (and heat) between them, thus disrupting the natural airflow that you’d get if they weren’t there. The polluted air will simply sit stagnant between them… which is bad news for your heart and lungs. The problem with exercising in a city like London is that taking in more breaths means sucking in more pollution.
What steps can you take?
If you commute to and from your London workplace on foot or on a bicycle, the best thing you can do is invest some time trying to find a greener route. Try and avoid high streets and main roads that are always congested in rush hour, and find quieter side roads instead – even if it means adding more distance to your overall route; your body will thank you for it! Similarly, consider leaving earlier (or later) when you start your journey so that you can avoid peak London traffic congestion. Also consider looking at a London street map to see if there are any parks or green, open spaces near your usual journey. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Imperial College London showed that London air pollution cancels positive health effects of exercise in those over 60 years old. It therefore really does make sense to take active steps to change your existing commuting habits if they involve gulping in lung-fulls of diesel or petrol fumes everytime you make the journey.
Do masks work?
A common misconception is that if you cover your mouth with a scarf or cheap mask, you’ll solve the problem – But this isn’t necessarily the case. Whilst these options can make some difference, you have to get it right to significantly reduce your exposure to London pollution. Avoid scarves altogether if you can as these will have little effect as there is no seal around your mouth or nose to stop very small particles from getting through. Bear in mind that the offending particles are very, very tiny. The bigger particles can often be filtered by the hair in your nose but the smaller, dangerous ones will pass through most barriers into your lungs. Some of these are so small that you’ll need an expensive, tight-fitting mask to catch most of them as we’re talking about particles that are less than 2.5 microns in size.
If you want to check daily air pollution rates in London, have a quick look at the airTEXT website, where you can get text updates of the air quality around you. Also, if it’s any consolation, bear in mind that even though exercising in London may not always be that good for you, studies have shown that air pollution rates are twice as bad for those sitting in traffic in their cars – a sobering thought indeed.