Training, the haze and our health

Well it seems like it’s that time of the year again and the haze is beginning to roll in.

As I write this, the current PSI is at 128 with the PM2.5 at 129 here in Singapore. Coming from a country like New Zealand where we’re known for our crisp and fresh air, it makes me sad to be writing on this topic.

Unfortunately we can’t control the weather, so the question becomes, how does the haze and air pollution affect us and what can we do to continue our training under these circumstances?

The effects of haze and air pollution on our health

While we’re all familiar with the common symptoms of haze and air pollution related issues such as breathing difficulties and throat irritation, there are many other health related problems associated …

  • Damage to airways of the lungs

  • Increased risk of asthma development

  • Chronic bronchitis

  • Worsening of existing asthma or other lung conditions

  • Increased risk of heart attacks and strokes

  • Increased risk of death from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease

While it’s clear there are many harmful effects caused by pollutants in the air, what’s not clear is the amount of exposure needed when training to cause a threat to our long term health. And because training comes with health benefits, it should not be a matter of simply giving up on training entirely - unless your doctor has advised you to - but rather, looking for ways to minimise your exposure to these harmful pollutants.

Limit the effects of air pollution and exercise

While jumping on a plane and heading to a location where the air is clear is probably the first choice for most of us, it’s simply not a practical solution. Instead you should look to manage the things within your control ...

Monitor air pollution closely. Use the Air Quality Index to closely monitor the quality of the air and make your training decisions based on the quality of the air at any given time.

When it comes to haze, it’s the particulate matter (PM) that lingers in the air that you need to monitor most closely. Particulate matter comes in various sizes from the smaller PM2.5 to the larger PM10. PM2.5 are the most dangerous of these particles as they’re so small (approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair) that they lodge deeply into the lungs. Because of their tiny size and lightweight, they can also travel long distances and remain in the air for weeks.

Time your workouts carefully. Avoid training outdoors or lower the volume and / or intensity of training when the air quality is poor. For me, and our Coached athletes, that level is when the PM2.5 reading is above 100.

Exercise indoors. When air quality is poor and PM2.5 is above 100, consider taking your training inside and onto the treadmill, the bike trainer or the pool.

Wear a mask. If you absolutely have to head outside for your training while the air quality is poor, wear an N95 mask (or other mask with one way valve) to limit the nasty effects.

While the haze situation is definitely less than ideal, you have to play the cards you're dealt. By taking note of the air quality on a regular basis and implementing guidelines recommended above that are within your control, you should be able to continue training in a way that is a safe and will continue to benefit your health and performance.