Researchers at the Institute of Global Health of Barcelona (ISGlobal) have led a study that indicates that regular physical activity is associated with an improvement of lung function in smokers in European cities, regardless of the levels of air pollution.
The work has been carried out with more than 4,500 people from nine European countries, under the Ageing Lungs in European Cohorts project (ALEC), coordinated by Imperial College London.
A previous work of the same project concluded that regular exercise was associated with better lung function among smokers, but exposure to air pollution was not analyzed.
The new research, published in the journal Environment International, aimed to assess whether residential exposure to air pollution (the annual estimate of nitrogen dioxide [NO2] and particulate matter PM2.5 and PM10) modifies the effect of physical activity in lung function in both of smokers and those who have never smoked.
The work analyzed the data of 2,801 people who had never smoked and 1,719 smokers from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom; all of them participants of the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS).
The participants, aged between 27 and 57 years, were followed-up for 10 years. They were classified as physically active since the beginning of the study if they exercised two or more times a week for at least one hour per week or more. Pulmonary function was assessed by the spirometry test.
The findings indicated that regular physical activity was associated with better lung function among smokers, regardless of the levels of air pollution. As for nonsmokers, exercise appeared to have benefits for lung function in areas with low or medium levels of air pollution, but these results were less clear in more polluted urban areas.
Elaine Fuertes, first author of the publication, emphasizes that “the results reinforce the message that physical activity is beneficial for health, including respiratory health.”
“However, our data suggest that there may be some attenuation of this effect among non-smokers living in cities with high levels of pollution. So, if confirmed, policies aimed at controlling air quality levels would guarantee the maximum benefit of measures to promote physical activity,” she adds.
“Many forms of physical activity take place outdoors, such as cycling, walking or running, and active transport is promoted as a method to reduce both air pollution levels and sedentary lifestyle. Thus, understanding the relationship between air pollution, physical activity and lung function is essential for decision making in the areas of public health and urban planning,”, assesses Judith Garcia-Aymerich, coordinator of the work and of the research program Noncommunicable diseases and the environment of ISGlobal.