On a side note ~ Best of success to all you Peachtree Road Racers and Possum Trotters! You totally Rock!!!
Runners take in more bad air while training along major roads
By STACY SHELTON
The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 06/18/08
With the 39th annual Peachtree Road Race fast approaching, a lot of runners are tuning up by running the course. But if you're hitting Peachtree Road during rush-hour for a jog, says an Emory pulmonologist, why not just suck on the tailpipe of a passing car instead?
That's about the equivalent of what you're doing to your heart and lungs, says Dr. W. Gerald Teague, professor of pediatrics at Emory University and director of the Emory Pediatrics Asthma Clinical Research Center.
"When you are running near a busy thoroughfare you not only are exposed to the pollution already in the air, you are also going to be exposed to particles, tire debris and exhaust emissions at the source, so you could get much more exposure versus exercising in a park," Teague says in a Q & A published by the Clean Air Campaign, a public-private partnership to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality in metro Atlanta. Teague is a member of the Campaign's board of directors.
Instead of exercising along a busy road, Teague suggests jogging, bicycling or walking in a park, or on side streets. And when a rare red alert is issued for smog, either work out in a gym or exercise in the morning or late evening. (Go to www.cleanaircampaign.com to sign up for e-mail alerts).
On Wednesday, forecasters issued an orange alert for the third day in a row, meaning that Thursday's air is expected to violate federal smog limits. That's particularly bad for children and people with heart and lung disease, no matter where they are in metro Atlanta. Public health experts advise them to limit prolonged outdoor exercise to the morning and late evening.
The threats to public health come from the generalized ground-level ozone, an ingredient in smog formed when man made pollution mixes with heat, and the localized tiny particles from vehicle exhaust.
Dr. David Schulman, chief of pulmonary critical care at Emory University Hospital, said Wednesday that long-term exposure to traffic pollution can decrease lung function, but it can also lead to heart problems — and even heart attacks. A study out of Scotland showed "during exercise, people who inhaled diesel exhaust increased the stress on their hearts three-fold as opposed to exercising in clean air," Schulman said.
Rich Heidal, a 29-year-old auditor who lives near Lenox Square mall and plans to run the Peachtree Road Race, said he's noticed a big difference between running Peachtree and bicycling in the North Georgia mountains, where the air is cleaner. On Peachtree, "the buses will knock you over. The heat from the pipes makes it more difficult to breathe. You definitely want to get off the [main] road."
The exception, of course, is running or walking in the July 4 race with 55,000 other people. The mass body odor can get downright nasty, but with only foot traffic, Atlanta's busy artery is far less hazardous to your health.
Joggers are not the only ones gagging in metro Atlanta's fumes. Study after study has shown a link between vehicle traffic and asthma in the general population, including an oft-quoted study from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. When metro Atlantans cleared the roads during the games, hospital visits for asthma attacks plunged between 11 percent and 44 percent, according to various health data.
It may not look like it, especially on days when Atlanta's skyline is blurred by a gauze of brown air, but the region's air quality has markedly improved in the last 30 years as power plants, industries, vehicle engines and fuels have gotten cleaner.
Still, asthma rates among children and adults are on the rise, a dichotomy that's often explained in academic studies as increased exposure: More people breathing in traffic pollution. The latest Georgia data from the state Division of Public Health estimates 10 percent of children have asthma and 7 percent of adults.
The problem is, we can't get away from our own pollution. Even in the enclosed environment of a car, we're still breathing in the toxins spewed by the vehicles in front of us, said Roby Greenwald, a post-doctoral researcher in Emory's Department of Pediatrics who is studying the effects of urban air pollution on asthma in children.
And the absolute worst thing you could do for your heart and lungs is live within about 100 yards of an interstate highway. As metro Atlanta grew, more residences — with balconies — were built next to major thoroughfares.
"I wouldn't live in those," Greenwald said. "A condo right on Peachtree is going to be much, much better than an apartment overlooking the Connector."
In an interview last year, Teague said just growing up near a major freeway can limit lung growth. Particle pollution has also been linked to emphysema, stroke, lung cancer and heart disease, he said.
But living on a cul-de-sac in the suburbs doesn't necessarily make you immune. Harmful pollutants have been measured all over metro Atlanta.
"Really, you can't move away from it," said Sonya Lunder, a senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group for public health and the environment. "It's hard for policy makers or the public to know what to do about it."
Some of the solutions, Lunder said, include better public transportation, anti-idling laws, and building schools, parks and residential developments away from major thoroughfares.