A recent study co-led by Imperial College London and Duke University found that for the elderly, air pollution can mitigate the positive effect on the heart and lungs gained from physical exercise. These findings add to a growing body of research about the impacts of air pollution on respiratory and cardiovascular health.
In the study, the team recruited approximately 120 volunteers over the age of 60 from the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. The volunteers were either healthy, had stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD,) or had stable heart disease. The elderly volunteers were then instructed to walk in Hyde Park, a quiet, leafy street, or Oxford Street, an area of London famous for pollution. Oxford Street has repeatedly breached air quality limits set by the World Health Organization, according to the study.
Researchers recorded environmental measurements, such as measures of nitrogen dioxide, at both locations. They also measured physical standards of the volunteers like blood pressure. The volunteers that walked in the park experienced much higher increases in lung capacity than those who walked around Oxford Street. The researchers did acknowledge that they based their study off of only two hour-long walks. However, they suggested that repeated exposures to air pollution could have a negative impact on the health of the elderly.
Based on the evidence presented, the authors of the study said that their findings could mean that for elderly people, access to “green spaces” and parks was something vital. The authors also stated that their research could have implications for urban planning and specifically traffic measures.
According to Fan Chung, senior author of the study:
“These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk. Our research suggests that we might advise older adults to walk in green spaces, away from built-up areas and pollution from traffic.”