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How (un)healthy is running in the city?

A good intention of many: more sports. Some do that in the gym, others go outside for a run. A circle running in the city good for you? Or has the pollution in the city can also have negative effects on the body? Two experts explain.

In general, it is not to say that running in the city per se is unhealthy, explains Pieter Hiemstra, professor of Cell biology and Immunology of lung diseases at the LUMC. That is mainly because the degree of air pollution depends on several things. “The time of day and the traffic, but also the weather and the location.” The degree of contamination can during the day, by a factor of ten differences.

The amount of particulate matter, for example, higher in a narrow street with high buildings where much traffic is in comparison with a street that is wider.

Air concentrations rapidly decreased

The last few decades, concentrations of aerosols and nitrogen dioxide in the air in the Netherlands dropped sharply, reports the Health council. In almost the whole country has now met the European limits set on the emissions of these substances.

However, there are a few exceptions, so-called ‘bottlenecks’ in the big cities. What is more, too much nitrogen dioxide in the air. In areas with intensive livestock farming or industry there’s still too much particulate matter in the air.

Exposure to particulate matter in the Netherlands is responsible for about 4 percent of the disease burden. This puts air pollution in the top four with major risk factors, together with smoking (13 percent), obesity (5 per cent) and lack of physical activity (3-4 percent).

It’s complex to explain how these values get down, explains professor of Environmental Epidemiology Bert Brunekreef. “There are multiple sources. We are a small country, half of the particulate matter in our air comes from the countries around us. It is European policy, therefore, very important.”

Who thinks of air pollution comes quickly out of the traffic, but that is not the only culprit, stressed Brunekreef. “Also the weather conditions play a large role. In calm weather may be pollution in the air accumulate, but this is difficult to predict.”

Physical effort is always good, whether you go cycling or running. “But it does matter whether you get this clean or less clean conditions”, says Brunekreef.

Research to least polluted route

Professor Hiemstra is itself involved in a brief investigation of the exposure to air pollution. “By taking into account the route, you can try to reduce the exposure to air pollution as low as possible,” he explains.

Volunteers and universities held a four-week air quality on some of the routes for both cyclists and pedestrians in Amsterdam. So this was a route that made sure that all the places with high pollution avoided. The routes have now been added to a few tourist guides.

Air quality measure with an app

If you want to know at what point a hardlooprondje the least ‘harmful’ is, can a tool use. The app My Air quality is free to download and gives in real time the air quality in your region for the next few days. Also, there may be a personal smogalert be set.

“In the app can be freely zoomed-in on the own address”, says Brunekreef. The app is developed by the national Institute for public Health and the Environment and the public health service. “There are opinions on when and which activities to undertake.”

So it is wise to use the app to check out before you go running, also says Brunekreef. “Who looks at the expectations, it can sometimes benefit to the planned hardlooprondje to postpone or earlier in the day.”

Extent of smog depends on temperature and amount of sun

In the summer there is nice, warm weather, more smog in the form of ozone and the concentration thereof at the end of the afternoon or the beginning of the evening. The amount depends on the temperature and the amount of sun. “It may be better in the morning, hard to walk, because by then this form of smog are still building”, says Brunekreef.

In the winter, there are less obvious mechanisms in the air to detect. When there is little wind there is also more pollution in the air. “But this is not linked to a predictable time of the day as with ozone, however, is the case”, says Brunekreef. “Then it is smarter to make the app to keep an eye on and, on the basis of that information you hardlooprondje to plan.”

Asphalt is less ‘healthy’?

  • Those who still have doubts about running in the city because of the asphalt, need not to worry. There is no difference between the physical impact of different substrates when the participants in their own speed of walk, according to researchers from the KU Leuven.

    Running in the nature, and possible softer surfaces is better, but in the end the speed is held more impact on the body than the surface.

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