Ask any doctor and they will tell you that exercise is essential for living a healthy lifestyle. Everyone benefits from exercise, it is not limited to a specific age, race, sex, or physical ability. There are many benefits that you and your body get from exercising.

A new study has been released, co-authored by USC Professor David Raichlen, indicating that vigorous exercise in a highly polluted area diminishes the positive brain benefits of doing the exercise. The study gives readers a glimpse into the complexity of the impact that air pollution has on the human brain. So, to exercise or not exercise – that is the question that must be addressed.

The Benefits of Exercising

You likely already know that exercising helps you in many different ways, such as controlling your weight, improving your mood, and boosting your energy – but let’s address the health conditions and diseases that exercising helps to combat. Partaking in a regular exercise regimen can help prevent or manage:

  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Depression
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Anxiety
  • Cancer (multiple types)
  • Arthritis

Exercise has also been seen to help with cognitive function – which is better for overall brain health. High-intensity and vigorous exercise has been linked with a reduced risk of the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Air Pollution Changes the Benefits of Exercise

Much like exercise (under the right conditions) is beneficial for your body, when air pollution is present in your workout, it can have quite the opposite outcome. Air pollution has a significant impact on the health of those who are around it, and can actually lead to higher risks of dementia, poorer cognition levels, and adverse effects on the brain’s volume.

Your Brain on Air Pollution

Two researchers from USC, Professor Caleb Finch and Professor Jennifer Ailshire, began focusing on a fine particulate PM2.5 a few years ago and concluded that the long-term exposure to the particulate was found linked to premature death – especially in those subjects with chronic heart and lung diseases. The amount of cognitive decline was heavily noted throughout the duo’s research.

Finch went on to partner with another associate professor, Jiu-Chiuan “J.C.” Chen, publishing a study on how the brain’s ageing process is worsened by the effects of air pollution – increasing the chances of dementia. The research done by Finch and Chen also went on to determine that older women who lived in areas of high PM2.5 exposure suffered memory loss and brain shrinkage (as seen in Alzheimer’s patients), which was not seen in subjects living in cleaner air conditions.

Mask Up to Limit Air Pollution Exposure

Raichlen determined with his study that it isn’t exercise that we need less of, but the exposure to air pollution. One viable solution is to incorporate high-filtration face masks and coverings when outdoors, even during exercise. Masks are designed to be breathable while stopping the amount of external particles that enter our bodies.

So, the next time you work out, instead of breathing in all this unhealthy air (while you try to get healthier), try putting on a mask – most masks help to reduce the amount of PM2.5 we end up exposed to as a result of natural polluting factors.



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