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Medical Moment: How air pollution threatens the brain

Published: May. 13, 2022 at 4:49 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Air quality doesn’t just affect your lungs, but it can also impact other organs.

From boosting mood and improving focus and concentration to lowering the risk of dementia and increasing longevity, the benefits of exercise on the brain are bountiful.

“The longer on the treadmill, the lower your mortality is,” said Wael Jaber, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic.

But what can things like this do to those gains?

Cars, trucks, generators, factories, and power plants are all manmade and emit pollutants that clog our air.

More than 90 percent of the air that people breath in the world does not meet the World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

Although governments around the globe have made laws that have tried to help this issue based on MRI scans and other tests, brain inflammatory markers have been found in people all over the globe and especially in those who live in high pollution areas.

Nicolai Kuminoff and some of his colleagues at Arizona State University conducted an experiment to see the relationship between air pollution and dementia. They took advantage of the new Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the mid-2000s that forced regulators to improve air quality. They looked at over seven million Americans between 2004 and 2013. They controlled socioeconomic factors like hypertension, education, and housing. Looking at the areas with improving air quality the study show that fewer older people developed dementia compared to the countries that did not make any recent changes.

After looking at all the data it was evident that by 2013 there were 182,000 fewer people with dementia

Researchers at the University of Arizona and University of Southern California continued to look at records of more than 8,500 people.

They looked at exercise habits, brain scans, and pollution levels where they lived.

They found those who vigorously worked out in areas with little air pollution showed relatively large amounts of healthy gray matter and low incidence of white matter lesions, compared to people who never exercised hard. White matter lesions are associated with higher risk of stroke, cognitive decline and depression.

However, those beneficial associations almost disappeared when exercisers lived in areas with even moderate air pollution.

For people working out in more polluted areas, researchers found they had less gray matter and more white matter lesions than those in less pollution, even if their workouts were similar. Experts say, when exercising outdoors, stay away from busy highways and check the air quality index before heading outside.

Your indoor quality might not be much better.

The EPA says pollution is often two to five times higher in your home than outside. They recommend using strong air filters and good vacuums to keep things clean.

Since 1970 the EPA has been working with all levels of the government to clean up the air and the damage pollution causes.

The Clean Air Act has created standards that have made the air quality better and continues to improve.

Medical professionals are still in the process of trying to figure out what they can do about the air pollutions effects on the human body.

Some things that an individual can do to help reduce exposure is limiting outside exercise on days with inadequate air quality, using filters indoors to help clean the air and reducing the amount of air from outside that comes into your home.

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