London air pollution cancels positive health effects of exercise in over 60s

By Robert Lyons on 13th December 2017

Exposure to air pollution on city streets is enough to counter the beneficial health effects of exercise in older adults, according to new research. The study is one of two new studies on air pollution and health led by scientists from the MRC-PHE Centre for Environment and Healthopens in new window at Imperial College London and King's College London.

The study on exercise and health, published in The Lancet, researchers recruited 119 volunteers over the age of 60 through the Royal Brompton Hospital, who were either healthy, had stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or stable heart disease. The volunteers walked for two hours in two London settings at midday: in a relatively quiet part of leafy Hyde Park and along a busy section of Oxford Street, which has regularly breached air quality limits set by the World Health Organization.

Physical measurements were taken before and after the walks to show the effects of the exercise on cardiovascular health, including measurements of lung volume exhaled, blood pressure, and the degree to which their blood vessels could expand.

Analysis revealed that all participants benefitted from a stroll in the park, with lung capacity improving within the first hour and a significant lasting increase for more than 24 hours in many cases. By comparison, a walk along Oxford Street led to only a small increase in lung capacity in participants, far lower than recorded in the park.

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