London pollution is so bad that there's not much point exercising

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Exercising on polluted city streets can lead to breathing problems: Inhaling toxic fumes cancels out the benefits of keeping fit

"With the annual number of births projected to continue increasing in London, the absolute health burden will increase, unless air quality improves", the study's authors concluded.

Findings of the study suggested that pregnant mothers exposed to air pollution from air pollution in the capital are more likely to give birth to babies that are underweight or smaller than they should be. They also occur among healthy people, the study found. Average day and night-time road traffic noise levels were also estimated.

In a study published (paywall) December 5 in the Lancet, researchers led by teams at Imperial College London and Peking University in Beijing looked at the health effects of people over 60 years old going for walks in Hyde Park and along Oxford Street, both in London.

Fumes from vehicles in London is linked with a rise of up to six per cent in the odds of a low birth weight and a rise of up to three per cent in the risk of being small for the baby's gestational age, Imperial College London found.

"We need to reduce pollution so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of physical activity in any urban environment."

Further analyses found that pollution levels on Oxford Street resulted in worsening arterial stiffness in participants with ischaemic heart disease not using cardiovascular drugs, but had little effect on those taking medication, suggesting that these drugs might have protective effects. Eighty participants had mild heart or lung disease.

A study has shown that walking around heavily polluted areas could reduce the positive impacts of exercise. Volunteers walked for two hours midday at one of two London locations: in a relatively quiet part of Hyde Park or along a busy section of Oxford Street, where pollution-including black carbon, nitrogen dioxide, and fine particulate matter from diesel exhaust fumes-regularly exceeds air quality limits set by the World Health Organization.

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Air pollution levels were monitored before and during their walk, and each participant's lung capacity and arterial stiffness was measured before and after. They also point out that there was no resting control group, so they can't be sure that walking contributed to the changes in lung function and arterial stiffness, although previous studies have shown that walking improves arterial stiffness.

While people doing the park walk had increased blood flow and their arteries became less stiff by 24% in some cases, the Oxford Street walkers saw barely any improvement, with just a 4.6% improvement for healthy volunteers.

'For people living in the inner city it may be hard to find areas where they can walk, away from pollution ... we really need to reduce pollution by controlling traffic'.

The researchers note that stress could account for some of the physiological differences seen between the two settings, with the increased noise and activity of Oxford Street having an effect.

Commenting on the results, Fan Chung, Professor of Respiratory Medicine and Head of Experimental Studies Medicine at the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London and senior author of the study, said: "These findings are important as for many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, very often the only exercise they can do is to walk".

"However, telling joggers to avoid polluted streets is not a solution to the problem".

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