Just as Brits are getting inspired to locate their inner athletes, warnings about smog and air pollution in London suggest exercising in the capital could put wannabe sportspeople’s lungs at risk. And according to campaign groups, the problem is similar in other UK cities.
Before the opening ceremony, there were concerns that London’s summer smog could cause athletes’ performance to drop, and could even threaten their health. And the pollution that descended over the first week of the Olympics was reportedly the worst incident of smog we’ve had since 2006, according to Clean Air in London’s Simon Birket.
Fortunately the wind and rain that followed helped clear the smog, though it threatens to return for the closing ceremony.
So should we stick to our sofas to avoid the bad air? Well, no, we don’t get away with it that easily, says British Lung Foundation medical adviser Dr Keith Prowse.
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He told the Guardian: "The health benefits of exercise are generally greater than the health risks posed by pollution, certainly at normal UK levels. Most people in this country are unlikely to be affected by pollution when exercising."
Those who might struggle include the elderly or people with existing lung conditions such as asthma. Exercising in an air conditioned gym may help, provided people don’t leave while their breathing and heart rate are still elevated. Those who commute by bicycle or on foot may find it helpful to use quieter routes that are less polluted.
If you’re concerned, there is an app to look up local pollution levels and the government’s Defra website also has listings to predict air pollution levels.
"The most important thing is that people take note if they start to feel breathless or wheezy, or if they are coughing more during periods of high pollution,” added Prowse. “In these instances, they should visit a doctor in case it is the result of any undiagnosed condition, and minimise the impact of pollution on their bodies."
If you’ve been in London for the Olympics, have you noticed the pollution levels?