It probably doesn’t surprise you that poor air quality affects lung function, upper respiratory function, breathing, and can create a host of allergy problems. However, if you are like most people, you don’t automatically think that spending time in a smog-heavy city like Los Angeles could be a risk to your heart. While researchers have known for years that poor air quality and cardiovascular disease (the number one cause of death in the world) are connected, they have only recently started understanding how much that relationship impacts our health.
Here are a couple of recent findings that might surprise you:
1. A study released in April showed that high levels of air pollution increase the development of atherosclerosis – a condition where artery walls thicken and a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
2. In addition to developing thickened arteries, breathing polluted air can immediately increase your blood pressure and keep it there for up to 24 hours. This prolonged hypertension is also a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.
There is no denying the serious effects of polluted air on our bodies, especially our hearts. But unfortunately, air pollutants are all around us and they don’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Common causes of air pollution include exhaust from cars, buses, and planes; use of fossil fuels for power or heat; gas and vapors from industrial businesses; chemical pesticides used in agriculture; and various indoor pollutants such as chemicals, smoke, and other substances.
While scientists have not yet figured out how to remove these pollutants from the environment altogether, there are things we can do to improve the quality of air we breathe indoors. Here are a few ideas that you can implement to keep you and your family healthy.
5 Tips to Improve Air Quality:
1. Save energy.
While trees help with outside filtration (one reason it’s so important we protect them), as individuals, we should do our part to lower outdoor pollution by saving energy. Make sure you turn lights out when you leave a room, take public transportation or carpool when possible, and walk or ride your bike to your destination (plus, you’ll get some good exercise too).
2. Keep indoor areas ventilated.
It’s also important to increase the quality of your indoor air. According to the EPA, the average American spends 90% of their time indoors and indoor air pollutants can be 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor pollutants. Since indoor areas are typically enclosed spaces with low ventilation, poor indoor air quality can be a serious health concern. Increasing ventilation with fans and keeping windows open, as well as investing in an air cleaner, will help.
3. Don’t smoke or use toxic cleaning products.
The best way to decrease indoor air pollutants is to reduce or eliminate source pollutants (I know, a no-brainer right?). Some common culprits include cigarette smoke, toxic cleaning chemicals, and gas emissions from carbon dioxide and radon. Luckily, you can easily address these issues by not smoking inside your house (and not allowing anyone else to either), using eco-friendly cleaning products (they’re super easy to make), and regularly checking carbon dioxide and radon levels.
4. Be a smart traveler.
Of course, reducing and eliminating indoor air pollutants becomes harder when you have less control over your indoor environment in places like your work, restaurants, and hotels. Luckily, many states have laws banning smoking in public locations and in some offices. You can also talk with your employer about using eco-friendly cleaning supplies or investing in an air filtration system.
If you’re traveling in a city with high air pollution, ask your hotel to give you a non-smoking room as far away from the smoking rooms as possible. Also find out if they use eco-friendly cleaning products or have air filtration systems in their rooms. Some hotels, such as the MGM Grand Hotels in Las Vegas, offer special air filtration features to support guests’ health and wellness. The Stay Well rooms rooms have an advanced HEPA-standard air purification system designed to reduce allergens, toxins and pathogens. It’s important to choose facilities that regulate indoor pollutants while you are away from home.
5. Eat right, exercise, and don’t stress.
While we should all do our best to reduce air pollution in our environments, many of the toxins are simply out of our control. So beyond merely regulating what is going on in your external environment, take measures to bolster your internal defenses against poor air quality. Activities like eating healthy, exercising, and practicing stress reducing techniques will reduce the negative effects air pollution can have on your heart health.
The quality of the air we breathe (both inside and outside) affects everyone — ourselves, our children, our pets, and our neighbors. While air quality is a serious 21st century world problem, you can do your part to improve air quality and keep you and your family healthy and strong.
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Photo credit: Angélique Hayne