Does Air Pollution Cancel the Heart Health Benefits of Exercise?

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Exposure to air pollution is an established risk factor for heart disease, possibly because it contributes to blood vessel inflammation. So does dirty air negate the cardiovascular benefits of exercise?

A study published in July 2018 in the Journal of the American Heart Association suggests not. It found that among more than 57,000 Danish adults in their 50s and 60s, those who exercised regularly had a lower risk of a first-time or repeat heart attack. Living near traffic pollution did not seem to lessen the benefit.

During the 18-year study, over 2,900 people suffered a first-time heart attack, while 324 had a repeat attack. The odds were lower among active people. Those who played sports, biked, or gardened were 9 to 15 percent less likely to have a first-time heart attack. The more active they were, the better: People who walked, biked, gardened, and played sports each week were over 50 percent less likely than inactive people to suffer a repeat heart attack. When the researchers considered levels of traffic pollution around the study participants’ homes, they found no evidence that poorer air quality dampened the benefits of exercise.

That said, air pollutants can exacerbate heart disease and likely increase cancer risk. Consider doing your aerobic activities away from high-traffic roads and exercising indoors on days when outdoor air quality is particularly poor, especially if you have respiratory problems.