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How to protect yourself from pollution as toxic air causes surge in health problems

Mirror logo Mirror 12/07/2018 Susie Kearley

a man standing in front of a building: Toxic air is causing a surge of health problems across the UK © Provided by Michael Murphy Toxic air is causing a surge of health problems across the UK Concerned about the effects of air pollution on your family’s health? Read on for simple ways to reduce your exposure.

Toxic air is causing a surge of health problems across the UK, affecting people of every age in our most polluted towns and cities.

Those at greatest risk are children, whose lungs and immune systems are still developing.

Related: Health Problems Your Hands and Feet Can Predict (provided by the Active Times)


They often spend more time outside, so they’re ­typically exposed to higher levels of pollutants than adults. Those with conditions such as asthma and cystic fibrosis are particularly vulnerable.

Adults with respiratory disease or heart problems are also at greater risk, and elderly people are vulnerable because they often have weaker immune systems.

a river running through a grassy hill with Nürburgring in the background © Provided by Credits: Moment RF Their bodies are less able to compensate for the effects of polluted air on their ageing lungs and cardiovascular systems.

So, what’s the best way to protect yourself and your family?

Wearing a gas mask or moving to the countryside might seem a bit drastic, but there are steps you can take.

Take a walk (or drive) on the quiet side

Simple measures like walking on minor roads rather than major ones will reduce your exposure to toxic air by between 30% and 60% in Britain’s most polluted towns and cities.

Campaigners Healthy Air ­demonstrated that car drivers are exposed to more than twice as much air pollution as pedestrians using the same busy street, while cyclists were exposed to just one-eighth of the pollution levels experienced by car drivers.

Walkers and cyclists taking quieter routes to their destinations saw further reductions in their levels of exposure. Walkers can also reduce their exposure to pollution by standing back from traffic.

a body of water with smoke coming out of a car: 'The Government must accept this is a children’s health crisis' © Getty 'The Government must accept this is a children’s health crisis' Make use of wide pavements to keep your distance from exhaust fumes, which are more concentrated closer to the road.

If walking or cycling isn’t practical, you can protect yourself while driving by turning off your fan as you approach heavy traffic.

This will stop fumes from being drawn into the vehicle from outside. Most cars have a control for the recirculating air inside the vehicle which should help too.

Plan ahead

If you’re super-sensitive to air ­pollution, try reducing exposure on bad days by monitoring Defra air pollution forecasts: uk-air.defra.gov.uk/forecasting , or follow them on Twitter for updates: @DefraUKAir.

Related: How to sleep well in a heatwave (provided by Cover Video)

Pollution-busting planting

If you live near a busy road, consider planting a hedge along the front of your property.

The leaves reduce airborne ­pollution by absorbing toxic gases during photosynthesis, trapping particles in the air, and providing a physical barrier between the fumes and your home.

a close up of some grass © Provided by Credits: Stone Sub Most people know that plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, but it’s less well-known that plants absorb other gases through their leaves and roots, including toxic gases from exhaust fumes.

Microorganisms in the soil neutralise the pollutants, so you breathe cleaner air.

Grasses, climbing ivy, trees and other greenery can reduce nitrogen dioxide pollution by 40% and ­microscopic particulate matter by 60%, so the benefits are significant.

Evergreens act as effective barriers all-year round, while deciduous trees collect particles more efficiently due to their larger leaves, waxy cuticles and fine hairs, so a mix of plants is good.

Exercising outdoors

Girl doing stretching exercises outdoors © Provided by Shutterstock Girl doing stretching exercises outdoors What about the risks of exercising outside? Isn’t it bad to breathe polluted outdoor air when you could just stay indoors and avoid it?

Studies show that it’s more beneficial to exercise in a polluted environment than not to exercise at all.

Last year, a study by Imperial College London showed significant lung capacity improvement and reduced arterial stiffness among over-60s after they’d been walking in Hyde Park for two hours.

A different group of over-60s walked along Oxford Street, but their health ­benefits were lower, and the improvement didn’t last as long.

If you have a choice about when to exercise outdoors, avoid rush- hour periods and opt for when pollution levels are lower.

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