Running or cycling home from work when air pollution is high could damage the lungs and lead to heart failure, a new study suggests.
Researchers in Belgium have discovered that the pollution causes blood vessels in the lungs to narrow, which prevents oxygen circulating effectively through the body, and could lead to cardiovascular disease.
“This is a major public health issue for people living in polluted urban areas where exercise could damage the lungs and potentially lead to decompensated heart failure,” said lead author Dr Jean-Francois Argacha, a cardiologist at the University Hospital Brussels.
“Our main advice is to limit physical activities during heavy air pollution. No strong evidence exists on effectiveness of face masks to eliminate or reduce particle exposure.”
Researchers looked at more than 16,000 people who had been admitted to hospital in Belgium between 2009 and 2013 and who had an echocardiogram taken to show the movement of blood through the heart.
They then compared the results to air pollution records and found that on average patients had worse circulation on days where pollution was high, or had been in the week before admission.
In a second experiment scientists exposed 10 healthy male volunteers to pollution in a chamber and tested their lung function at rest, and when taking a drug which simulates heart function during exercise.
Although there was no impact when resting, circulation worsened when the drug was administered.
“This suggests that pollution is more harmful to the lung circulation during exercise,” added Dr Argacha.
“Our dual approach provides original data on the impact of air pollution on the pulmonary circulation.”
The research was presented at the EuroEcho-Imaging annual meeting in Leipzig, Germany.