April 29, 2008

A breathtaking approach to exercise?

[By Merry]

I mean the title of this post literally. Honest.

One of my pet peeves is people using the word "literally" incorrectly.
Friend - "He was so upset that he literally exploded with anger."
Me - "Wow, that must have been messy."
Friend - "Huh?"

[Crabby reaches out a claw -- figuratively -- and drags Merry back to the point]

Anyway, the point is that pollution is a problem.

Breathing on an airplane is bad for you. Apparently noxious vapors leak into the cabin through the air-conditioning system and can cause breathing difficulties, fatigue and even permanent brain damage. Some former pilots claim they have been left unable to fly after exposure to this recycled air.

Breathing while living next door to a shoe factory is apparently really bad for you. One woman spent 8 years fighting the shoe factory and the city council because she claimed the glue fumes from the factory were poisoning her. (It's a depressing, scary tale.)

But apparently you can exercise when you're in Los Angeles on a windless day. Exercising when air quality is bad is okay????

I ripped off leveraged the details of this study from Dr. Mirkin's site.

Researchers at University of Dublin asked whether a person would absorb more pollutants while walking or cycling slowly, or while covering the same distance at a faster rate. You would think that the faster you move, the harder you breathe, causing you to absorb more pollutants through your lungs. However, the opposite is true. Cycling and walking at a faster speed causes you to breath at a higher rate over a shorter duration of exposure. This results in lower total absorption of pollutants than cycling or walking the same distance at a slower speed (Journal of Environmental Science and Health, November 2007). The reduction was greater at lower concentrations of pollutants than at high concentrations, and was more marked in walkers than in cyclists. They found that fast walking decreased absorption of pollutants by 26 percent compared to walking slowly, while cycling fast decreased absorption by 17 percent over slow cycling .

This has me puzzled. The more breaths I take, the more I exercise, the better? Every expert I've ever heard speak on the subject says that when the air quality is bad, you shouldn't exercise. How much weight should I put in this study?

Sometimes all the different studies out there in Internet-land drive me crazy.

On the other hand, you can also find people on the Internet who get paid to drink or get paid to eat chocolate. So it's not all bad.


  1. Oh great, brain damaged pilots and toxic airplane air--I already hate to fly as it is! Now you'll never get me in a plane again.

    Now to me, the exercise results didn't seem that odd--because it looks like they measured by distance covered, not by time of exposure. So if it only takes a few minutes for a biker to cover the distance that a walker would cover in, say, an hour--then even if the biker's breaths were deeper there'd be far fewer of them. It would make sense to me that the walker would get a lot more exposure in an hour of breathing than the cyclist would in a few minutes of heavy breathing.

    Either way, I think the advice holds true--try to limit your exposure to polluted air!

  2. two thoughts miss.merry:


    two? Im literally with you on yer detestationpeever.

  3. It's okay to exercise in polluted air. I knew this day would come.
    Pollution is good! Literally!
    The misuse of literally galls me too.

  4. I keep wondering if we're going to see some of the Olympic athletes suffering from respiratory problems this summer from China's cruddy air quality.

  5. And I always blamed my problems on being hit on the head as a child, who knew it was the pilot thing?

    I am really glad that Crabby race walks, now knowing that she will be healthier that way.

    Dr. J

  6. Now I'm even more glad I live in the country. Pollen, yes; air pollution, mostly not. Even though within a mile of me there's a concrete plant, an artificial stone manufacturer, and some kind of polymer flooring company.

    Mary Anne literally in Kentucky

  7. I always wonder about people when they live in big cities and they say they're going outside for a breath of fresh air. city? fresh air? hmmm.... what am I missing?

  8. i just found your blog and you crack me up! i will be visiting you often and linking you to my blog. thanks for sharing! have a crabby day!

  9. Yeah, I knew that mentioning the brain-damaged airline pilots would cause more worry. On the other hand, you'd be breathing the air too, so maybe you'd be too brain-damaged to notice?

    I thought this study might encourage people in big cities to go out and exercise -- briefly.

  10. I'm rushing out the door, so of course I'm stopping first to wave at all the people who commented.

    Mizfit - little??

    Leah, if people wanted to misuse 'literary' that would be fine with me.

    Dr. J -- maybe while you're flying you should roll down the window once in a while? Oh okay, fine. So much for my suggestions ;)

    MaryAnne in K, I know, even in the country, in some beautiful places, there are factories pumping out pollutants. I like the idea of the jobs, but I also like the idea of breathing, so it's a dilemma.

    Geekgirl, I was wondering about the Olympic athletes too. I know people asked about this problem in 1984 in L.A. too, and Beijing is supposed to be /worse/ than L.A. in terms of pollution.

    Marijke, I think if you took city folk to the country, they'd think the air smelled wrong. They're probably used to air with a 'tang' in it ;)

    losing CD, welcome!

  11. From the corner of the city girl - I think it depends what city you live in. Boston has pollution, sure, but it's a lot cleaner and clearer than a lot of cities out there (or the countrysides with factories). I've never had a problem with exercising outside because of pollution. But I do remember St Louis having red light days, and there were days when I'd walk outside and the air would seem thick and gross. Much happier in Boston.

  12. I've never lived anywhere where there wasn't significant occasional air quality concerns. On those days it wouldn't be the pollution that would stop me, it would be the heat and humidity. And mostly that other thing.. procrastination.

  13. It would be great to be paid to eat chocolate ("its all in the name of research! Purely for health reasons...").

  14. When evidence like this goes against other evidence and I don't know what to do, I think Republican and ignore everything.

    Evidence be damned, I must and will exercise!

  15. The Bag Lady is so glad she lives in the country. The majority of our pollution comes from the cows. And yeah, city folk would probably think it smelled funny.
    Getting paid to eat chocolate? Getting paid to drink?
    Which line-up is shorter?

  16. I am too confused to be literal.


  17. As one who has respiratory problems, the shorter the time of exposure the better. I can honestly say that walking fast in poor air conditions is usually not an option for me. That is when I find myself slowing down actually, as I tend to walk quickly anyway.

  18. They pay people to eat chocolate? Where do I sign up for that?

  19. Merry-

    I went to the Universe Within exhibit, a display of real plastinated human bodies, and all of the deceased were from China. They all had the scariest lungs I've seen, I had assumed the first few were smokers until the docent explained that all the bodies had the same gunky lungs from coal-burning power.


  20. Ah the word "literally" - bugs me hugely too. For a while I took to responding with "you mean as opposed to metaphorically or abstractly?".

    Until I realised I was sounding like a complete tosser.

  21. I get sick after EVERY single flight I take. So, I believe this, although I always thought it was just being in such close proximity to other people's germs. This definitely puts a new spin on it. Yikes!


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