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The Weather Report You May Be Ignoring

Smoke billows from a smokestack against a blue sky.Before heading out on a run or hopping on your bike, you might give the day’s forecast a glance. Maybe you look up the weather report online, or perhaps you just stick your head out the door to gauge the temperature. Or you may ignore the weather report completely, knowing you’re headed out for a run no matter whether it’s hot, cold, rainy, or dry.

But there’s one weather report you might want to check before heading outdoors for a workout, and it’s pretty likely you’re not already doing it. I sure don’t! What is it?

The Air Quality Index.

That’s the one where the weatherman says it’s a “code orange” or “code yellow” kind of day, and they’re not talking about national security. They’re talking about the quality of the air we breathe.

Air quality looks at two important factors:

1. Ground level ozone

and

2. Particle pollution

Ground level ozone  forms when pollutants from things like cars and power plants combine with the hot sunlight. It causes a substance that irritates the lungs, throat, and eyes. It can cause shortness of breath and aggravate asthma. It is the stuff that hangs out near the ground, like what comes out of cars, power plants, and factories. We usually just call it smog. It gets worse in the summer months due to lots of sun and scalding temperatures.

Particle pollution is literally referring to particles in the air; small solids and liquids that get suspended in the air and can travel deep into our lungs. In addition to irritating the lungs, it can exacerbate asthma and cause arrhythmias and heart attacks. Particle pollution is especially high when there’s a forest fire, residential wood or trash burning, or weather that keeps pollution close to the ground. Repeated damage from air pollution can cause permanent reduced lung function.

Most of the time when you hear about air quality, you hear it in terms of whether “sensitive people” should go outside or not. So why is this the one weather report you might want to pay attention to? Because it’s pretty likely you fall into the sensitive category and don’t even know it. In fact, if you exercise outdoors at all, you certainly do.

When you exercise, you breathe deeper and faster, pulling more and more of that potentially polluted air straight into your lungs.

So what do you do?

Try not to exercise outdoors when alerts are orange, red, or purple. If you’re extra sensitive, also avoid exercising when it’s yellow.

Take it easy if you are exercising outdoors. The more you exert yourself, the more air pollution you breathe in.

- Find out what time of day the air is best in your area and exercise at that time. In many places, that’s in the morning.

- Hit the treadmill, stationary bike, or other indoor activity.

For more info on the Air Quality Index and how to find out what yours is, visit AirNow.

Do you pay attention to the air quality before exercising? Did you know being active puts you into the sensitive category along with children, older adults, and those with asthma and other lung or heart problems? It’s been orange all week in NC, per usual.

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