Fitness Friday: Exercising Safely in High-Pollution Areas

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In the course of training for my first marathon several years ago, I ran a lot of miles around Saint Paul and Minneapolis. For the first time in my life, I began experiencing respiratory symptoms that indicated the onset of asthma. I was shocked and dismayed – running was supposed to be making me healthier, but along with the positive benefits I’d experienced came this very unwelcome new health problem. I ran the marathon about three weeks after I first noticed the symptoms, and then cut my running mileage drastically for the remainder of that summer. The asthma-like symptoms disappeared, but they left a feeling of uneasiness that stuck with me.

A couple of weeks ago, the American Lung Association came out with it’s 2015 “State of the Air” report, identifying general levels of pollution across the country, and specific air quality ratings for individual metropolitan areas. I was a little surprised to find that the Twin Cities received a B grade for particulates and a C for ozone, meaning that the air here is pretty clean relative to other cities. Given the trouble I had had in this relatively clean air, I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to exercise outdoors in cities like Los Angeles or New York, which both received failing grades across all categories.

Of course, New York, Los Angeles and other highly polluted cities are full of people who run, walk and bicycle outdoors daily. The whole thing got me thinking about what I and others can do to limit exposure to air pollution and mitigate the potential health risks. So I wrote this article for, which outlines a few strategies we can all follow to breathe a little easier when exercising outdoors. Read, heed and have a healthy Friday!

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