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Being Sedentary Makes You More Susceptible to Damage from Ozone

Sedentary life

Ozone in the air we breathe can harm our health in many ways. Some of us are more susceptible to the damage than others – including those of us who do not get enough exercise.


So what exactly is ozone? It is a gas composed of three atoms of oxygen (O3). Just like cholesterol, ozone can be either good or bad. Good ozone naturally occurs in the upper atmosphere and protects the Earth from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Bad ozone is ground level ozone – created by chemical reactions from cars, power plants, and other sources. Ground level ozone is considered a harmful air pollutant had is harmful to both humans and their environment.

Ozone can:
• Make it more difficult to breathe deeply and vigorously.
• Cause shortness of breath, and pain when taking a deep breath.
• Cause coughing and sore or scratchy throat.
• Inflame and damage the airways.
• Aggravate lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
• Increase the frequency of asthma attacks.
• Make the lungs more susceptible to infection.
• Continue to damage the lungs even when the symptoms have disappeared.
• Cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

People who are at the most risk from air pollution are those who have asthma, older adults and children whose lungs are still developing. Another group at risk for lung damage are those of us who do not get enough exercise.

US Environmental Protection Agency researchers recently published data collected from laboratory rats, one group of which were sedentary and one group which were more active. Those rats that did not exercise regularly had higher markers of chronic disease after being exposed to ozone.

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"The two-day exposures to ozone elicited a marked pulmonary inflammatory response as evidenced by an elevation in neutrophils [white blood cells that fight infection], eosinophils [white blood cells that often indicate allergies or infection] and other biomarkers of inflammation in the BALF [fluid in which the lung cells are retrieved and examined,]" the research team wrote.

In addition, glucose levels rose in both sets of rats after ozone exposure (again, highlighting the detrimental health effects of pollution), but the sedentary rates had a more marked increase and took longer to normalize.

Obviously, the study highlights yet another benefit to regular exercise. But be safe – do not exercise outdoors in high traffic areas or your deep breathing may take in more pollutants. Exercise early in the morning on those hot summer days to avoid the times of day most notable for ozone. And be sure to check the EPA site https://www.airnow.gov/ to find out the air quality in your area – you may just need to take your workout indoors!

Journal Reference:
Christopher J Gordon, Urmilla P Kodavanti et al. ACTIVE VERSUS SEDENTARY LIFESTYLE FROM WEANING TO ADULTHOOD AND SUSCEPTIBILITY TO OZONE IN RATS. American Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology, 2016; ajplung.00415.2016 DOI: 10.1152/ajplung.00415.2016

Photo Credit:
By Julia Spranger - Self-photographed, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons