City air won’t dampen workout benefits

Research we're watching

Published: October, 2018

Image: © RoBeDeRo/Getty Images

Good news for urban dwellers: the heart benefits of your workout aren't canceled out by health risks caused by car exhaust fumes in the city air you breathe. A study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that regular workouts still reduce the risk of heart attack even when people are regularly exposed to moderate to high levels of air pollution caused by traffic. Air pollution is known to raise risk for heart attacks as well as respiratory problems, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Researchers studied data on more than 51,000 people ages 50 to 65, looking at how often the people exercised and other lifestyle factors, as well as their exposure to the traffic pollutant nitrogen dioxide. Over a period of nearly 18 years, nearly 3,000 of these people had a first heart attack, and 324 had a recurrent heart attack.

People who lived in areas with higher nitrogen dioxide levels had a 17% higher risk of having a first heart attack and a 39% higher risk of a recurrent heart attack, compared with those who had low exposure to traffic pollution. But regular exercise appeared to reduce that risk. Active participants had a 15% lower rate of initial heart attacks, regardless of air quality. So, even if the air you are breathing is less than ideal, regular workouts help protect your heart.

As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.