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Urban air pollution makes exercise useless for the elderly

Do you like long walks as part of your exercise routine? Air pollution can eliminate all those health benefits, according to a new report.

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Researchers from Duke University and Imperial College London recently conducted an experiment, published in The Lancet, to determine how a walk outside can affect the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, especially among older adults.

To do so, they examined 119 people older than 60 years, who were healthy, had stable coronary disease or had stable ischemic heart disease. They asked the volunteers to walk for two hours at noon in one of the two places in London. One was a quieter area in Hyde Park, while the other was along a more crowded section of Oxford Street, where pollution generally exceeds the air quality limits set by the World Health Organization.

After analyzing the results, they found that those who paraded around Hyde Park experienced a significant improvement in lung capacity during the first hour of exercise, which often lasted more than 24 hours.

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On the other hand, those on Oxford Street experienced a smaller increase, and their results did not last the rest of the day.

In addition, they discovered that walking in Hyde Park reduced arterial stiffness by more than 24 percent for healthy and coronary patients. It decreased by 19 percent for those with ischemic heart disease.

Oxford Street walkers who were healthy only had a decrease of 4.6 percent, subjects with coronary heart disease saw a 16 percent decrease, and those with ischemic heart disease only experienced a 8.6 percent reduction.

"In combination with the evidence from other recent studies, our findings underscore that we really can not tolerate the levels of air pollution we currently find in our busy streets," said co-author Fan Chung in a statement.

To combat the problem, researchers recommend officials create stricter air quality limits and implement better traffic control measures, especially in crowded places.

They also suggest that older adults walk through green spaces away from contaminated places or traffic areas.

"For many people, like the elderly or those with chronic illnesses, the only exercise they can often do is walk," Chung said. "We need to reduce pollution so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of physical activity in any urban setting."

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