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How air pollution can impact athletes

Nov 19, 2017

Poor air quality affects us all, but it can have an especially negative effect on athletes. Evidence suggests that performance of athletes can drop in polluted environments. For e.g. the recent Olympic events in London and Beijing saw a dip in the form for most participants.


Why are athletes more susceptible to air pollution?

The impact on athletes is mainly due to the increased rate of breathing while they perform. While on a pitch, athletes take in at least 20 times more air than a bystander. Higher levels of Sulphur Dioxide and Ozone in the air can cause their lungs to contract, thus impacting performance.

Research points out that the decrease may be serious enough to impact one's career.

What can this mean in the long run for their career and health?

Apparently, there is another aspect to the problem as well. In longer run, athletes who indulge in high endurance games and events can develop respiratory disorders such as asthma or COPD. Even physicians who treat these athletes warn of the consequences of training in highly polluted environments.

I am an athlete, what should I do?

It may not be possible for everyone to train away from city centers due to lack of facilities as well as opportunities. Yet there are some steps which can reduce the damage caused by pollutants to your lungs and overall performance.

  1. In India, where the city traffic increases after the wee hours of morning, it is better to go for early morning workout. Avoid training in outdoor environment during the day time. Pollution levels also go down after dark, and you can take up a late evening training to stay ahead.
  2. You can self-monitor the air pollution levels in and around your training ground to figure out the best time for practicing. If you are repeatedly running short on breath, it might be due to presence of high particulate matter and ozone.
  3. If you are a cyclist or runner, do not train near or on highways and congested motorways. Rather go for training on trails and local pathways for safety, health and performance.
  4. Buy an air purifier for your home, it will help in relaxing your lungs by providing cleaner air. American athletes have derived better results by having air purifiers installed in their training quarters. If you are worried about the cost, don't be. Air purifiers in India have become quite affordable these days courtesy of brands such as Livpure.

Concluding thoughts

No one can disagree that pollution negatively impacts our health and well-being, and it becomes especially true for those whose life depends on remaining healthy. If you are an athlete, it is important that you understand the things that might be holding you back from giving 100%, and air pollution is one of them.

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