New Delhi: A recent study has claimed that even a two-hour of exposure to air pollution, especially in the form of vehicular exhaust can nullify the positive impacts of walking. It can affect the lungs and hearts of the elderly severely, researchers have warned. The findings of the study has inferred that even short-term exposure to traffic exhaust can have negative impacts on both healthy people as well as those who are suffering from lungs-relate disorders like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or coronary disease.

The study comes at a time when north India is facing a serious crisis due to rising levels of pollution.

“This adds to the growing body of evidence showing the negative cardiovascular and respiratory impacts of even a short, two-hour exposure to motor traffic pollution,” said Junfeng “Jim” Zhang, Professor at Duke University in North Carolina, US.

On the other hand, people who walked for two hours in a large city park — away from direct exposure to street-side traffic fumes — reduced arterial stiffness by more than 24 per cent in healthy and COPD volunteers and more than 19 per cent in heart disease patients.

However, those who got exposed to pollution experienced a maximum reduction of just 4.6 per cent in arterial stiffness, 16 per cent reduction in COPD and an 8.6 per cent reduction in heart disease.
“For many people, such as the elderly or those with chronic disease, the only exercise they very often can do is to walk,” added Fan Chung, Professor at the Imperial College London.

The study, published in The Lancet, highlights the need for stricter air quality limits and better traffic-control measures in our cities as well as greater access to urban green spaces for people to exercise, the researchers said.

According to a UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) report, children’s exposure to air pollution can permanently damage their brains.

“Combined with evidence from other studies, our findings underscore that we can’t really tolerate the levels of air pollution that we currently find on our busy streets,” Chung said.

Pregnant women who were exposed to traffic related pollutants especially PM2.5 were linked to 2-6% chances of low birth weight and 1-3% increased chances of being small for gestational age. The study was published in the journal BMJ.