ATLETA Fitness

Training in the “big smoke”

Today’s society often demands long working hours much of which are spent in major cities. Due to this busy schedule many of us train in the city, in and around our working hours, and this can present a health and performance problem. Pollution!! When we exercise our respiration rate increases, therefore we breathe in more air and thus more pollutants. So where we train in the city and at what time significantly effects whether exercise is beneficial or detrimental to our health and performance.

Carbon monoxide, found mostly in car exhaust, is the most significant pollutant as it has a great affinity to hemoglobin in red blood cells (approximately 230 times higher that oxygen) and forms the harmful compound Carboxyhemoglobin. Firstly this presents a major problem to performance as these carbon monoxide molecules block the oxygen molecules from being binding to the blood cells, myoglobin in skeletal muscle and mitochondria, which all play a significant roles in important processes including muscle contraction, cell reproduction and growth, nerve conduction, digestion and the transport of molecules across cell membranes. The reduction of oxygen transport and absorption capacity also decreases maximal aerobic and anaerobic performance. CO poisoning or suicide is caused by extensive destruction of cardiac tissue and nerve cells, fortunately this is generally associated with extremely high levels of CO usually found in intentional poisoning, however some reports indicate that with and increased respiration, exercise induced CO poisoning could occur. Long term effects have also been observed, runners in New York City have been shown to have similar levels of Carboxyhemoglobin to smokers, which is an alarming finding when many of us exercise purely to improve our health. In Los Angeles when pollutants reach a certain level athletics meets are called off due to fear of health risk.

Some simple steps can be taken to lessen the effects of pollutants on health and performance when training in the city.

  1. Listen to weather/pollution reports, and take appropriate action.
  2. Try not to train in peak traffic times.
  3. Train near the in parks or near the ocean where pollutants are diffused and breezes can blow away car exhaust.
  4. Try to avoid training on the side of major road ways, especially at peak traffic times.
  5. Minimize exposure to pollution when going to an event as it may decrease your performance.

Whilst this article will mainly focus on the effects of Carbon Dioxide on health and performance, whilst the other pollutants cause issues (mainly bronchoconstriction, inducing asthma) CO causes the most significant harm. Other common pollutants that we may come across include; nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulates. In addition, temperatures and secondary pollutants such as Ozone can cause adverse health and performance effects.

If you feel you need to know more about training in polluted environments, please contact Neil and he can advise you on readings and training protocols.

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