Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Riding in "unhealthy" times

I'm guess you've noticed....the skies in Reno have been just a touch smokey lately.  After checking in on a friend's cat yesterday I snapped this picture while riding home about quarter after 6.

Oh yeah...there should be mountains back there somewhere.

The picture doesn't capture it very well....but the sun appeared absolutely blood red through the thick smoke and haze.  It also looks like it's about 8 o'clock at night with the diluted light making it's way through the smokey mess.

So, what is a bicycle commuter supposed to do?  Do you hang up the bike, avoid exercise, and crank the AC to clean the campfire smell out of your house?  That's pretty much what every newspaper article and news report on TV advises.  I'm here to say that this is only a short term view (typical of media) and you might just want to ignore it.

Here's why...the studies the media cite do show immediate issues when strenuously exercising in these unhealthy (a.k.a. smokey) conditions.  The evidence behind these warnings is solid. Breathing polluted air triggers inflammation and oxidative stress that increases your risk of asthma, stroke, and heart failure. Because exercise means deeper breathing, more particles bypass the nasal filtering (a.k.a. nose hairs and mucus membranes) that trap noxious particles, and they get into your airway. A ride on a smoggy/smokey day makes a bad situation worse.

The problem with the studies is they only look at the short term effects.  Meaning the mice run on the wheel while sucking on a tail pipe for 30 minutes and are tested immediately after for "health" issues.  Obviously, issues are found.

What those studies overlooked were the benefits of exercise that accrue over time (daily bicycle commuting....ahem). When you stretched the timeline of these types of studies out to a few weeks. Mice that were exposed to diesel exhaust without exercising saw a dramatic spike in lung inflammation and oxidative damage, as expected. In contrast, mice that exercised five days a week during that period were almost completely protected from the pollution damage!

Not convinced by the mice sucking on tail pipe emissions....Another study found these results:
Researchers in the Netherlands, using epidemiological data, estimated that the air-pollution effects of switching from a car to a bike for short daily trips in polluted cities would subtract between 0.8 and 40 days from the average life span—but the additional exercise would extend it by three to 14 months.
 So....if you're a regular commuter (e.g. someone who exercises regularly), and you're not trying to win the Tour de France on your way home, keep riding.  The long term results are still positive even in the smokey weather and you'll have a pleasant campfire aroma on your cloths when you get home!

1 comment:

  1. I'm a non-Tour de France contender mice that exercises regularly so I'm glad to hear this! Thank you!! :-)