Outdoor workouts in high pollution may harm your brain
How you exercise matters — but neuroscience researchers have found that where you exercise may be just as important, especially for brain health.
What’s the scoop?
- Researchers have connected physical activity — especially vigorous activity — with reduced risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Inversely, brain health suffers significantly for people living in highly polluted areas. Air pollution like car exhaust can lead to a higher risk of dementia.
- A new study published in the journal Neurology indicates vigorous exercise in a highly polluted area can actually diminish the positive brain benefits of exercise.
Until now, scientists had not investigated how living in a polluted environment could offset the benefits of exercise.
In their words:
- “We found that, while vigorous physical activity was good for brain health, exposure to air pollution seemed to mute some of these benefits,” said David Raichlen, professor of biological sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the study’s senior author.
- “The amount of air pollution we looked at in this study is well within the normal ranges of air pollution for even cities most people would consider ‘healthy,’” said Melissa Furlong of the University of Arizona and lead author of the study.
What to do?
- Raichlen reiterated the findings do not suggest eliminating exercise in polluted areas.
- “We’re not recommending we avoid all exercise in air pollution,” said Raichlen. “We do think we should put more thought into where we exercise, and, for example, avoid areas that are close to vehicle traffic.”
- The team did not find that physical activity in these areas contributes to poor brain health, only that air pollution diminished the benefits of physical activity for some aspects of brain health.
The takeaway: “These results really underscore the need to focus on reducing air pollution exposure in urban environments,” Raichlen said. “Cleaning up air in our cities will allow us all to gain the benefits of physical activity regardless of where we live.”