Sport and pollution: an irreconcilable combination?

For some years now air pollution levels have grown to unsustainable levels. Among the most affected cities, as well as other major European capitals include London or Paris and Milan.

However, the problem extends to almost all the large european urban centres, with levels of fine particulate matter that in winter repeatedly exceed the limit thresholds imposed on citizens' safety. For this reason, many people have begun to wonder what risks they are facing when training in urban areas or at any rate by the high level of fine dust in the air.

According to the Italian Ministry of Health, in Italy alone, the annual deaths due to pollution, in particular from the notorious PM2.5, are about 30,000, or 7% of all deaths from natural causes.

But what is the fine dust?

First of all, it is important to understand what these fine particulates are, in particular PM2.5 and PM10, which we hear so much about in autumn and winter, when their high levels force cities to have traffic blocks and other initiatives to improve air quality.

The term "Particulate Matter", hence the acronym PM, is used to indicate all those solid and liquid particles dispersed in the atmosphere, with a diameter ranging from a few nanometres to 500 µm and more, which are often harmful to health.

The name of the species comes from the different size of the particles: the PM10 have, in fact, a diameter of 10 micrometers and are able to penetrate into the upper tract of the respiratory apparatus, from the nose to the larynx; the PM2.5, on the other hand, have a diameter of 2.5 micrometers and are therefore 4 times smaller than the aforementioned ones. It is precisely because of their small size that PM2.5 is extremely harmful to health. They can cause damage to the cardiovascular system and even, according to studies, direct damage to the DNA, potentially causing cancer and other serious problems.

Risks and benefits: a compromise

For those who play sports in urban environments with high levels of pollution, this information could appear particularly alarming. In order to clarify the matter, we asked Davide Razzini, a medical surgeon who is passionate about marathons, ultramarathons and ultratrails, to whom we asked what the health risks might be and, if so, how to protect himself:
"The risk of damage to health exists and is real. During physical activity, in fact, it increases the respiratory rate and the amount of air that we introduce into our lungs with every single act of breathing (up to 15 times higher), then also increases the amount of pollutants, fine dust, etc., that we assimilate. On the other side of the scale, however, we must put the fact that playing sport is still a beneficial activity for the body from a metabolic point of view, which helps to prevent cardiovascular diseases and helps to relieve stress. In the final analysis, therefore, it should be understood which the greatest risk is."
How, then, can the benefits of physical activity be reconciled with the risks posed by air pollution? "Wearing one of the classic hospital masks would be a first defence" - explains Dr. Razzini - "useful for filtering the air and preventing the largest particles from penetrating into the pulmonary alveoli. However, PM10 and PM2.5 are able to pass through these masks. To protect oneself, however, one can make use of the new masks, those designed specifically for city sports, which a recent study has shown have excellent levels of filtration, very close to the totality of particles, thus leaving a hope to all those who do not want to give up the hour of jogging in the city".

A possible (temporary) solution

Risks and benefits must therefore be balanced on the basis of the level of pollution found in the air where you train. The episode of the Beijing Marathon in 2014, when some athletes retire from the race scared by the risks they would have subjected their health, is illustrative of how important it is to know the environment in which they train. According to some estimates, runners would inhale 12.6 mg of PM2.5 during the approximately 4 hours of competition, the equivalent of what a person normally inhales in 24 hours. All this, however, maintaining a level of beats accelerated and a sustained breathing, thus exposing
therefore their body to a much greater danger, which many considered excessive.
As we continue to hope for a greener future, a possible solution can be found in the applications and different tools that technology and startups are starting to produce.

Looking around with full knowledge of the facts, you can come across several apps, some for smartwatches, which help you choose the best route to take to avoid the most polluted areas, or others that show specific days and times when the levels of fine dust are lower, which become so useful when you want to run safely.

For Technogym - in line with the claim Healty people, healty planet - the wellbeing of people cannot be separated from the wellbeing of the environment. The company is committed to ensuring that products, services and processes have minimum impact on the environment, as well as innovating the world of equipment in this expertise: the Artis line in fact recycles and renews the energy produced, supporting consumption.
With Artis, sustainability reaches the highest environmental levels ever: in force machines, the energy produced is converted into useful energy to power the display, and in regenerative cardio machines, the energy produced by human movement is fed back into the network to power the gym.
In short, the problem of air pollution cannot be ignored today, but giving up sport for fear of its negative effects does not seem to be the best solution.

Good advice, then, is essential: take the right measures, put on your shoes and prepare for a healthy sweat.

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