Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cities, Exercise, and Brain Damage: 411


Cities are full of beautiful things: lights, culture, people, food, and more. But they’re also full of some not so great things like stress, pollution, violence, and crime. The vast majority of Americans live in cities dotted around the country. But while we may be used to the negatives that come with city living, it’s important to remember that our bodies may still be affected negatively.

The stress, polution, violence and crime typical of city life can cause many health problems.
The stress, polution, violence and crime typical of city life can cause many health problems.
Image: Shutterstock

I’ve certainly never met anyone who is immune to stress, though some people seem to be better at managing it than others. Cities tend to stress people out in many ways. There is often overcrowding, poverty, violence, and crime—all of which can contribute to an elevated level of stress. Those of us who live in cities also know that life tends to move very fast, so just keeping up can be hard sometimes.

Cities are also hard to navigate because they are so complex in layout. All these stressors combined together can be a catalyst for mental illness and other stress-related health problems.

Exercise can reduce stress, but exercising in a polluted area can be dangerous to your health.
Exercise can reduce stress, but exercising in a polluted
area can be dangerous to your health.
Image: Shutterstock
Many things can counter stress, and one of my favorites is exercise. Not only does exercising on a regular basis keep your body active and healthier, but it also sends doses of mood elevating endorphins to your brain. It is a natural anti-depressant and de-stressor. Unfortunately, there are some concerns about exercising in cities as well.

With so many people living in close proximity, there is bound to be pollution. Some cities have it worse than others. According to the State of the Air 2012 report, California cities take the top five spots for America’s most polluted cities: Bakersfield, Hanford-Corcoran, Los Angeles, Visalia, and Fresno. On the other hand, Santa Fe-Espanola, NM; Cheyenne, WY; Prescott, AZ; Tucson, AZ; and Albuquerque, NM are the least polluted cities in the U.S.

Exercising in urban areas is still worse for you than exercising in rural ones, though, no matter how clean your city is. A recent study has actually linked brain damage to people who exercise outside in cities as compared to those who exercise outside in rural areas. Air pollution lowers response time and attention span, increases inflammation markers in the blood, and can prevent us from getting some of exercise’s best benefits: brain plasticity, comprehension, and mental health.

Exercise in rural areas is less likely to cause brain damage than exercising in polluted areas.
Exercise in rural areas is less likely to cause brain damage
than exercising in polluted areas.
Image: Shutterstock
So should you stop exercising outside and instead stay inside and inactive? Absolutely not. But Blisstree does have some good tips from researcher Romain Meeusen for those of us who still need to get our run on:

1. Brave rain and wind. These climates blow the fine particles away so you’re not left inhaling them.
2. Avoid rush hour. The more cars, the more pollution from exhaust fumes.
3. Head to the park. The more trees between you and the road, the better.
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