07 December 2017

Take a walk in the park

Walking through the city streets turned out to be more harm than good

Natalia Pelezneva, Naked Science

Scientists have again warned about the danger of air pollution by fine particulate matter. According to a group of researchers from the UK, China and the USA, elderly residents of megacities should carefully choose places for long walks around the city. The air of streets with active traffic can negate all the benefits of physical activity, so it's better to spend time in a park or a square. The same is true for people of any age suffering from heart or lung diseases.

The study involved 119 Londoners aged over 60 years. 40 of them were diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), 39 with coronary heart disease, and 40 more people did not have chronic diseases. Representatives of the first two groups did not experience acute conditions for six months before the start of the study. None of the participants smoked for at least a year before the start of work.

The researchers divided the participants into two groups and asked them to go for a two-hour walk around London. One group was walking in Hyde Park, the other was walking along the busy Oxford Street on that part of it where only buses and taxis can enter. At the same time, scientists investigated the concentration of hazardous substances in the air of these areas. They measured the level of nitrogen dioxide, as well as the concentration of fine particles PM 10 and PM 2.5 – these are solid particles with a diameter of up to 10 and up to 2.5 micrometers. On Oxford Street, the level of pollutants was expected to be higher than in the park. After returning from a walk, the participants of the work were examined. A few weeks later, the test was repeated with the same conditions.

A walk among the trees turned out to be useful: within an hour, the visitors of Hyde Park increased the vital capacity of the lungs and the volume of exhalation, during the day after the walk, these indicators continued to grow. At the same time, in those who walked down the street, they grew slightly, and in the group with COPD, they decreased. Also, COPD patients who visited Oxford Street more often complained of coughing, sputum, wheezing and shortness of breath. A walk in the park reduced arterial rigidity (stiffness) – one of the markers of the development of cardiovascular diseases. At the same time, walking down the street increased this indicator.

Comments one of the authors of the study, Kian Fan Chung: "For many people, including the elderly and those suffering from chronic diseases, walking remains the only type of exercise available. Our research allows us to recommend walks to elderly people in the green areas of the city, away from the areas under construction and traffic pollution."

The study is published in The Lancet.

Earlier, scientists announced the connection of air pollution with male infertility.


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