Outdoor Workouts In High-Pollution Environments May Hurt Brain Health

According to USC and Arizona neuroscientists, air pollution reduces the mental health advantages of exercise and increases the risk of Alzheimer’s or dementia.

What you do matters. But, according to USC and UA neuroscientists, where you exercise could be just as crucial for brain health.

According to a new study founder by USC Prof Raichlen, strenuous exercise in a polluted region can actually reduce the favourable brain advantages. An American Academy of Neuroscience study published online on Tuesday in Neurology reveals the complicated effects of air pollution just on human brain.

An active lifestyle has benefits beyond enhanced sports performance. Regular exercise can help the brain and body fight age-related diseases. Physical activity, especially continuous high-intensity activity, has been linked to lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

People who live in polluted locations have much worse brain health. Car exhaust pollution increases the risk of dementia, low memory, and shrinks brain volume. But until recently, no one has looked into how pollution could negate the benefits of physical activity.

Exercising Outdoors Is Hampered

Professor of human & evolutionary biology at USC Dornsife School of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, said that while robust physical activity was helpful for brain health, pollution tended to negate some of the benefits. In places with significant air pollution, strenuous physical activity decreased white matter abnormalities, a critical indication of brain health.

“We don’t advise against all exertion in polluted air. However, since greater white matter injuries are linked to stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, we believe we should exercise in regions away from traffic.

The study adds to a growing corpus of USC research linking air pollution to anything from Alzheimer’s to asthma.

Linking Brain Health With Air Pollution In Neuroscience

The researchers used data from the UK Biobank, a biologically important database with over 500,000 participants, to evaluate physical activity. Adult participants wore gadgets that monitored physical exertion for one week. The Axivity AX3 looks like a wrist-worn fitness band but collects more data, including duration and intensity of physical activity.

“Every moment you land, you body is hit. “The instrument used in this research picks up a mix of the these forces — really simply what your arm does,” Raichlen stated.

The subjects also had multimodal MRI scans to quantify brain tissue volume and find high-signal locations in the white matter. White matter lesions are linked to age-related brain illnesses like stroke, Alzheimer’s, and dementia.

The activity or MRI information of 8,600 people were compared to the predicted amount of air pollution in their homes. Researchers calculated annualised amounts of nitrogen dioxide, particle matter diameter of less than 2.5 microns from automobile and power plant emissions, and black carbon in the air.

The air pollution levels detected in this study occur in cities and urban areas all around the world, according to lead author Melissa Furlong of the University of Arizona.

“Air pollution levels in cities like New York and Los Angeles are within our study ranges.” According to the report, the amount of polluted air is well within normal levels for even ‘healthy’ cities.

Lessons learned: Vigorous exercise enhanced grey matter volume and decreased white matter lesions, however the benefits for white matter lesions were lost when participants came from polluted areas.

“Air pollution increases the chance of brain damage, dementia, and other issues.” “It made reasonable that as your rate of increased respiration during exercise, your exposure to pollution increases.”

Not exercise, but reducing pollutants

Exercising in polluted environments isn’t recommended, according to Raichlen. However, the amount of air pollution reduced the benefits of exercise for some elements of brain health. More research is needed to understand how the environment or lifestyle choices like exercise affect brain health, especially in relation to Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other age-related disorders.

The role of fitness as a life style component to minimize the impacts of brain ageing and Alzheimer’s disease is growing.

“These findings highlight the importance of lowering air pollution in cities, allowing us all to benefit from physical exercise regardless as to where we live.”


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