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How Can Air Pollution Hinder Olympic Athletes?

Posted Aug 02 2012 8:30am

athletes air pollution

athletes-air-pollution Follow Me on Pinterest With the Olympic games now here, the entire world will be focused on the best athletes in the world competing against each other for Olympic gold.  Few outside of these respective sports have a full understanding of the difficulty, duration and exact science that training for this type of competition entails.  No matter if you are an Olympic athlete or a weekend warrior, many of the same things can affect your performance, and one of largest environmental factors that can play a negative role in how an athlete performs is air quality.

For Olympians in 2008, Beijing presented a particular set of challenges.  Despite Chinese efforts to reduce emissions leading up to the games, the air quality in Beijing was on par with some of the worst modern cities in the world.  Press coverage of the air quality in London has been significantly less than in ’08 but air quality issues and how it could affect the athletes remain the same.

Air Pollutants and Your Health Air pollution from emissions can hold a host of chemicals that negatively impact the body and substantially decrease physical performance.  Some of the most notable pollutants include,

  • Carbon Monoxide & Dioxide
  • Partially Burned Hydrocarbons
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Sulfur Oxide
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
  • The most well known of these, carbon monoxide (CO), directly impacts respiration and the body’s ability to perform at its best.  CO reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, and decreased oxygen flow to muscles and tissue can dramatically reduce an athlete’s performance and endurance.  Another pollutant common in exhaust and industrial emissions, Nitrogen Oxide (NO), can actually increase the chance of infection by destroying the body’s natural resistance.  VOCs and hydrocarbon pollutants cause a host of short term reactions ranging from difficulty breathing and decreased lung capacity to lowered blood-oxygen exchange rates.

    In the months leading up to the London games, levels of NO₂ have been extremely high, and London has consistently ranked poorly when compared to the pollution levels recorded in other European capitals.  With the negative effects that air pollution can have on athletes or anyone exercising, the conditions in London may play at least some small role in determining winners and losers, particularly when those two groups can be literally separated by a hundredths of a second.

    How Do You Get Around Air Pollution? For athletes or just people who like to exercise outdoors , there are a few ways to combat air pollution while living in an urban area or close to a major roadway.  First, pay attention to the time when you exercise outdoors.  Morning hours, though generally more humid, lack the heat and pollution that can build over the course of the day.  This also makes sense for those looking to burn off body fat.  The morning tends to be better for this than exercising at the end of the day.  Second, consider wearing a mask during outdoor exercise.  Masks are more common for allergy sufferers, but increasing numbers of joggers, cyclists and others find they help filter air pollution.

    Just because we may not see clouds of black smoke belching from the exhaust of a diesel engine, doesn’t mean the air we are breathing is clean.  Air pollution may vary some, based on location, but all types can have immediate effects on those who are exercising or competing, and long term exposure to many of these pollutants have been linked to more severe health consequences like increased rates of asthma and other respiratory issues.  By first being aware and then making minor adjustments, we can minimize the effects air pollution has our workout regimen and physical performance.

    Author Bio: is a copywriter and blogger who specializes in Health and Home Solutions articles. You can view more of his work at and on HubPages.

    This post is the property of Kodjoworkout blog where you can find hundreds of home workouts designed to get you in shape fast!

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