If you’ve followed the lead up to this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, you know there have been a variety of health-related concerns. From the spread of the Zika virus (which Thrive scooped early on) to contaminated waterways competitors will have to brave, world health officials have been on watch.
In 2008, the summer games in Beijing, China faced similar concerns. Those concerns related to the dense smog which seemed to envelop the city. How could outdoor competitors be expected to perform at their best when dealing with the inhalation of toxic fumes?
After all, they’d been preparing their whole lives for a single performance-based moment. It seemed unfair to potentially damage their hopes because of senseless environmental issues.
These days, air pollution exists in many cities the world over. Of particular issue are the streets cyclists navigate on two wheels. Traditionally, cyclists have feared motor vehicles and distracted drivers as their greatest hazards. More recently, air pollution has become a new obstacle to navigate around.
In New York City, bike messengers have dealt with the effects of vehicle exhaust for many years. According to findings in one medical journal, “short-term exposure to traffic may have a significant impact on cardiac autonomic function in healthy adults.”
The study determined that heavy traffic impacted cyclist’s heart rate variability for as long as three hours after riding. Reductions in heart rate variability can lead to a higher risk of heart attack.
But these issues are not limited to the concrete jungle of the Big Apple. From Berlin to Atlanta and many other places, the proximity of riders to tailpipes is far from ideal. And while cycling’s benefits outweigh the negative effects, it is a very real issue all the same.
A study in Amsterdam testing personal air sampling equipment on both cyclists and car drivers revealed more startling details. Volunteers were tested during two different periods – winter and spring – for the better part of two weeks at a time. Ultimately, it was determined that cyclists endured greater exposure to vehicle fumes than the drivers themselves.
In an effort to place cyclists health at the forefront, the city of Toronto has taken steps to assist cyclists. Through the creation of a new app called CleanRide, a civil engineering professor from Toronto University used data which helps cyclists find the cleanest air available. The route may not be the most direct, but it is much more lung-friendly.
The map built into the app is helpful because it offers users the chance to select the quickest route, cleanest route, or a combination of the two.
The biggest problem, says the app’s creator, is the amount of cars in cities. Given the densely packed areas, pollution continues to grow. The encouragement of city-friendly transportation (biking, walking, and mass transit) has made some impact, but not enough to make a significant dent to date.
While a long-term answer for city pollution doesn’t appear near, the simple answer for the time being is: stay away from busy streets.