Research has shown that long-term exposure to pollution can lead to diminish lung function, particularly for older populations or those suffering from illnesses, while short-term exposure to pollution at higher levels has been found to cause deaths from ischaemic heart disease and exacerbate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Research funded by the British Heart Foundation undertook a study to assess the effects on respiratory and cardiovascular responses of walking down a busy street with high levels of pollution in London (Oxford Street) compared with walking in a traffic-free area with lower pollution levels (Hyde Park) in older adults. This randomised, crossover study included men and women aged 60 years or older with angiographically proven stable ischaemic heart disease or COPD who had been clinically stable for 6 months, and age-matched healthy volunteers.
Ambient concentrations of black carbon, NO2, PM10, PM2.5 and ultrafine particulates were higher in Oxford Street than in Hyde Park. Participants with COPD reported more cough, shortness of breath, and wheeze after walking down Oxford Street compared with Hyde Park. All participants, regardless of their disease status, found walking in Hyde Park led to an increase in lung function, but these beneficial responses, in contrast were diminished after walking along Oxford Street.
The results indicate that short-term exposure to traffic pollution prevents the beneficial cardiopulmonary effects of walking in people with COPD, ischaemic heart disease, and those free from chronic cardiopulmonary diseases. These negative health effects emphasize the need to develop policies to control ambient levels of air pollution along busy streets.
[Source: The Lancet]