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Brunel University/LifeLab Innovations, London, UK; 14 Sept. 2008 - New research announced this week into the health effects of air pollution, has shown for the first time that poor air quality can significantly impair lung function even in healthy people.
The six-week study by Brunel University/LifeLab Innovations and Prof. Alison McConnell, inventor of PUREbreathe, a revolutionary new breathing filter for urban exercisers, regularly tested the pulmonary function of eight professional cycle couriers working in London. The couriers worked five days a week for an average of 7.5 hours a day.
Individual exposure to particulate matter (PM) was estimated by collating data from official pollution monitoring sites in the capital and each courier’s work logs.
The calculated ‘pollution load’ delivered to the couriers’ lungs varied over the six-week testing period, but the study found that when the load was low, lung function improved by almost 5 per cent. Conversely, when the measured pollution load was high, lung performance fell by a similar amount.
The changes in lung function indicated that the couriers’ lungs were suffering from acute inflammation.
Crucially, the study found that even low levels of pollution can affect lung function. PM levels in central London at the time were, on average, below the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended maximum of 50 micrograms per cubic metre, and below the average levels measured by the BBC in Beijing during the Olympic Games.
“Previously, these sort of changes in lung function have only been observed in people with asthma, or at much higher levels of particulate air pollution”, explains Prof. Alison McConnell, Professor of Applied Physiology at the Centre for Sports Medicine & Human Performance at Brunel University.
The research, conducted by Brunel University and Brunel spin-off company, LifeLab Innovations, pointed to the likelihood that the impairment of lung function at relatively low concentrations of air pollution was due to the magnifying effect of exercise, which increases the amount of PM delivered to the lungs.
“Unfortunately the lungs are a very good conduit, a very good route for getting all sorts of materials into the body, It takes less than 10 seconds for the ‘hit’ from a cigarette to reach the brain, which provides a very good illustration of how rapidly material can pass from the lungs and into the body,” said Professor McConnell.
Prof. McConnell has invented the PUREbreathe device (www.purebreathe.com) specifically to help protect urban exercisers. PUREbreathe is a lightweight, multi-purpose breathing filter, ideal for runners and cyclists, protecting them from various forms of inhaled pollutants, such as air pollution and ambient dust, as well as pollen. The device, incorporating a medical grade filter and revolutionary air-tight mouthpiece, was developed in conjunction with UK Sport, and was made available to Team GB athletes in Beijing.
PUREbreathe® and LifeLab Innovations Ltd
PUREbreathe® is a patented respiratory protection device that has been developed by LifeLab Innovations Ltd, a spin-out company from Brunel University’s Centre for Sports Medicine & Human Performance. LifeLab Innovations has a number of respiratory products in its development pipeline and Professor McConnell was also the creator of the POWERbreathe® inspiratory muscle trainer.
For further information on the study, please visit: www.purebreathe.com
Notes for editors:
Additional comments from Alison McConnell:
Professor McConnell explains that cyclists are especially vulnerable to the effects of particulate matter, not only are they closer to the source of the pollution, but their higher breathing rate increases the amount of pollution they inhale. “The problem for the urban cyclist is that exercise magnifies the amount of pollution that they inhale. The deposition of some particles can be as much as 16 times higher during exercise. This means a 30-minute cycle ride can equate to eight hours of sitting by the roadside,” Professor McConnell said.
“At least 10% of Londoners have asthma and when put together, asthma, pollution and exercise - you have a multiple effect,” Professor McConnell said.
Top Tips for urban cyclists:
§ Pick less travelled routes
§ Use roads with less traffic volume
§ Cycle at off-peak times*
§ Leave early in the morning if possible
§ Cycle after rainfall
§ Use appropriate kit, for example consider a breathing filter
§ Avoid hot, windless days (when air quality is at its worst)
§ Choose a route that takes you through parks/waterways away from traffic
§ Bus lanes are the worst places for particulates because it is where [diesel-powered] buses and taxis operate – be conscious of this
§ Check the air quality forecasts and choose your route accordingly
§ Check the London Air Quality network website to find the pollution hotspots on your route, and try and avoid them
§ Avoid directly inhaling exhaust fumes – try and get out in front of other vehicles when stationary
§ Avoid stationary traffic – take the back streets
*A Dutch study found a 10-30% reduction in PM if cycling off-peak.
Source: Prof. Alison McConnell at LifeLab Innovations
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