Running outdoors in poor AQI: Safe or not?

India’s capital city New Delhi has, unfortunately, again met post-Diwali expectations for Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI is above 350, which is categorized as “very poor” air quality. While Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has appealed to citizens to work from home as a safety measure, let’s find out if it is safe for runners and joggers to step out for their daily exercise routine.

What we have been observing these days is smog, the combination of pollution caused by firecrackers, the winter fog and almost no winds. This makes the pollution settle down and suffocate us. Many people have their routine set as they go out for a morning run or jog and exercise in the parks. Even though this is a very healthy habit, we need to rethink it during such a condition. After all, what if you are doing more harm than good by stepping out of the house for exercising?

What AQI is safe for running?

According to Dr Mayank Saxena, Senior Consultant – Pulmonology at Max Super Speciality Hospital, he told us that the AQI level that is safe to step out for a healthy person is at most 100-150. But people who already suffer from respiratory disease should not step out if the AQI is more than 100.

So, whether you are a runner or not, you have healthy lungs or not, you need to stay inside as the air pollution or AQI levels we are seeing these days are nowhere near safe.

Air pollution post Diwali
AQI levels are bad for stepping out! Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

What is the impact of bad AQI on our lungs?

Dr Saxena explained that running during bad AQI can be hazardous for the lungs. Running or jogging anyways leads to shortness of breath and we need a constant supply of oxygen while running but if the air quality is bad all you are getting is pollutants and less oxygen which worsens your condition. Also:

* It might cause irritation to your airways leading to bouts of cough
* Can lead to shortness of breath
* Chest tightness
* Can reduce your stamina by affecting your lungs
* Those who already suffer from respiratory disease like asthma may have their exacerbation.

“It is best to avoid jogging or running when AQI is bad,” says Dr Saxena.

Precautions to take if you wish to run outdoors in poor AQI

1. Run in the evening

If you are someone who can’t go without even a day of exercising outdoors, it is best to do so early in the evening instead of the morning. Mornings are bad, with the AQI at its worst. The best time to go for a run will be around 4-5 p.m.

2. Wear a mask

“If you are planning to step out, then to protect yourself from these pollutants, it is better to use an N95/N99 face mask that helps to prevent entry of these pollutants inside your lungs,” advises Dr Saxena. However, it is advised not to run with a mask on as it can lead to insufficient supply of oxygen and lead to shortness of breath. So, you can indulge in a fast walk or light exercises.

running with face mask
You may take a walk with your mask on but don’t run! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Indoor gyms

Indoor gyms can be your best friends during this time. For the bad AQI days, indoor jogging on a treadmill can be done. You can also use some air purifiers to make it even better. You will burn the same amount of calories that you do on the streets and will protect your lungs at the same time.

use treadmill during bad AQI
Air quality is bad! Trying going to a gym instead of stepping out. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

4. Run in green areas

Running in a park or a space surrounded with trees will be much better than running on a street. We all are well aware that trees are natural air purifiers as they constantly supply us with oxygen and increase its concentration in the air. So, running in a park will still provide you with some fresh air and will be less harmful for your lungs.

Keep these precautions in mind when going out for a run but it is still advised that you stay indoors for a few days and workout at a nearby indoor gym.

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