Driving this weekend through California’s San Joaquin Valley, it was hard not to notice agricultural-related aromas, such as a massive methane-producing livestock ranch or freshly fertilized farmland. It got me thinking: Sometimes air really stinks.
This is nothing new, of course. Air quality has been a problem for many decades, and the recent emphasis on global warming is again bringing the issue to the forefront. But it seems the air we breathe—and that runners suck in enthusiastically—is worse when the dog days of summer hit. Some days it feels like you’re inhaling oven fumes; others, it’s like every malodorous molecule in, say, cigarette smoke or a scared skunk hangs heavier in the stagnant air that often accompanies oppressive humidity.
The air quality is of utmost importance to athletes heading to Beijing next year for the Summer Olympics. But you don’t have to be world-class to know protecting the respiratory system is important to anyone, and any runner, trying to stay healthy.
The risk of exposure exists regardless of where you live in most developed nations, but it’s typically more dangerous for those who run close to traffic, such as car-friendly urban areas or rural communities along heavily traveled highways.
Among the numerous online resources for running in air pollution is Pete Pfitzinger on his Web site, DistanceCoach.com, in an article that originally appeared in a running magazine. He recommends runners in heavily polluted regions check smog readings before heading out and tailor workouts to minimize bad-air days. Among the specifics:
* Run in the morning when pollution levels are at their lowest.
* Stay away from busy highways, especially during the evening rush hour.
* On high-pollution days, run more slowly and you’ll better breathe through your nose to remove sulfur dioxide and other air pollutants.
* If you must race on a bad air day, cut back on the warm-up.
* During exceptionally dangerous days, consider working out indoors instead or take the day off, as you might if the weather was particularly bad (stormy, for instance).
* Take antioxidant vitamins E and C, which appear to help reduce the harmful effects of air pollution.
Following these precautions will help you maintain your fitness, maybe even improve it, during what are traditionally the hottest months of the year in the northern hemisphere—August and September. Ah, isn’t that a breath of fresh air?!