When we think about improving our health, we rarely consider air quality. Instead, we focus on eating cleaner, getting more physical activity in and reducing stress and while all of these things are imperative to your health, the air you breathe is just as important. In fact, studies have found that breathing clean air can reduce the possibility of disease from stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer, as well as chronic and acute respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, emphysema and allergies. Enhancing the air quality that you breathe can even improve your skin’s appearance, help with digestion, and stabilize your mood and emotional health. But how? That’s the big question! In this article, we teach you everything there is to know about air quality and how you can start breathing in cleaner air to improve your overall health and wellness.
The Importance of Air Quality
Each day, you breathe in over 2,000 gallons of air, which is enough to fill a normal-sized swimming pool. It is absolutely imperative for your health, as it contains the oxygen you need to survive. In fact, the human body can only survive a few minutes without air. It is the basic element of life and inarguably, the most important one, as you need 10 times more air than food or water. But air isn’t only essential for breathing. It can also drastically affect many aspects of your life and overall health and wellness.
For example, poor air quality can increase your risk of developing several diseases and illnesses, including cancer, heart disease and respiratory illnesses. It can also affect your emotional and psychological health, as well as your skin which is the largest organ in the body. Low air quality can also cause a plethora of uncomfortable symptoms that affect your everyday life. So, although you are breathing in all of the air you need for survival, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re getting the air you need for optimal health.
However, it isn’t just outdoor air pollution that causes concern, as household air quality is also a major contributing factor for potential health problems and even death.
For example, household air pollution is responsible for approximately 3.2 million deaths per year. It comes in various forms as well – from inefficient and polluting fuels and technologies to chemicals and toxins in cleaning products.
Here are some shocking statistics that show you just how important air quality is:
- Air pollution in cities and rural areas was estimated to be responsible for 4.2 million premature deaths in 2016, according to studies.
- 99% of the global population was living in places where the air quality guidelines levels were not met
- People living in urban areas experience more respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- 9/10 people worldwide breathe polluted air
- 1/3 of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution
- Air pollution is linked to significant rises in depression, anxiety and suicides
- Growing up in polluted places increases the risk of mental disorders
- Air pollution is now the biggest environmental risk for early death
- Poor air quality is responsible for an estimated more than 100,000 premature deaths in the United States each year
How Poor Air Wreaks Havoc on Your Health
Air pollution gets generated in various ways depending on the source. For example, most household air pollution is generated through the use of inefficient and polluting fuels, products and technologies that release gas or particles into the air, such as fireplaces, stovetops and cleaning products. Outdoor pollution is largely generated from emissions from cars, planes, factories and aerosol cans. It also comes from sources, such as smoke from fires and windblown dust. Regardless of the source, air pollution affects the body in the same way, as it produces small particles that penetrate into the lungs. Some can even enter the bloodstream. The particular matter then inflames the airways and lungs, impairs your immune response and reduces the amount of oxygen-carrying blood. As a result, all of your organs and aspects of your health can start to be affected negatively and lead to acute and chronic symptoms, illnesses and diseases. Poor air quality can irritate the nose, eyes, and throat, cause shortness of breath, aggravate respiratory conditions, and affect the heart and cardiovascular system.
Some signs and symptoms of air pollution are:
- Dry skin
- Watery eyes
- Eye Inflammation
- Poor concentration
- Non-fatal heart attacks
- Breathing problems
- Irregular heartbeat
- Mental health symptoms, such as depression and anxiety
How to Improve Air Quality
Breathing in low-quality air has immediate and long-term effects on your health and the longer you breathe in polluted air, the more serious the problems and health effects become. This is why it’s so important to implement necessary changes in your daily life to reduce the pollutants in the air you breathe. Here are a few basic steps you can take to keep your air pure.
Reducing Outdoor Pollution
- Walk, bike, carpool or take public transportation more often
- When exercising, walking or biking, avoid roadsides during peak hours. Choose a less vehicle-crowded route.
- Avoid using garden tools, such as lawnmowers and leaf blowers that are fueled by petrol or diesel. If you have to, use a breathing apparatus or keep usage as little as possible and in a well ventilated area.
- Use a mapping app when driving to find the most fuel-efficient route
- Avoid using pesticides and chemicals when gardening. If you have to, ensure ventilation and keep exposure as little as possible. Wear a respirator or a breathing apparatus if the exposure duration is long.
- Organize and condense errands into one trip
- Keep your vehicle maintained and your tires inflated
Reducing Indoor Pollution
- Improve ventilation in your home by opening windows when outdoor conditions are ideal and closing windows when they aren’t, using bathroom and kitchen fans and keeping vent airways clear
- Replace filters on your HVAC systems regularly
- Use chemical-free cleaning products. If you have to, ensure the area is well-ventilated.
- Remove carpeting if possible or clean it frequently
- Use an air purifier
- Avoid using irritating perfumes, fragrances and incense
- Minimize your use of aerosol cans, including air fresheners
- Dust and vacuum regularly
- Clean your air ducts
- Control humidity in your home
- Add more indoor plants into your space that naturally clean the air
- Stop smoking indoors
- Avoid idling your car, starting gas-powered machines or using a barbecue in your garage
- Reduce cooking methods that generate pollutants (frying emits more particles, boiling increases humidity, etc.). If you have to, ensure the kitchen is well-ventilated with windows open, or use the cooker hood.
- Follow proper protocol when conducting renovations using materials that release pollutants into the air, such as glues, paint, varnishes, flooring, etc.
- Use a mattress and pillow protector
- Vacuum mattresses and wash sheets weekly
- Hang your laundry to dry when possible
- Keep dryer vent clear
- Clean the lint tray every time you use your dryer
The Benefits You Can Expect from Clean Air
The benefits of improving air quality extend well into all aspects of your life, health and wellness. The cleaner the air is that you breathe, the healthier you’ll be – physically, mentally and emotionally. It allows you to achieve and maintain better health and wellness, protect yourself against serious diseases and illnesses, and reduce any symptoms you may be experiencing due to lower-quality air.
In addition to countering all of the negative effects of poor air quality mentioned previously, here are some of the top benefits you can expect with cleaner air quality:
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
The heart can become damaged by airborne pollutants, as studies have found a significant link between long-term exposure to air pollutants and cardiovascular health. While improving air quality won’t eliminate the risk altogether, it will certainly reduce it and help you maintain optimal heart health.
Improved Cognitive Health
Studies have found a link between air pollution and cognitive decline, with some reporting increased depression, anxiety and suicides in areas where the air quality is particularly low. As such, improving air quality can help reduce the risk of mental health concerns and illnesses, enhance cognitive health and prevent cognitive decline associated with air pollution.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes
Research has found a link between the risk for developing type 2 diabetes and air pollution. While there are many other factors that come into play, improving air quality and keeping it contaminant-free can help reduce your overall risk for type 2 diabetes.
Your skin is the largest organ in the body and it, too, can be affected by air pollution. In fact, exposure to toxins in the air can reduce the skin’s elasticity and cause the skin to age faster. As such, by improving the air quality, you can achieve many anti-aging skincare benefits, such as enhanced elasticity, reduced wrinkles, clearer complexion and moisturized skin.
Air quality has been linked to the levels of overall happiness and satisfaction that people experience. While it isn’t exactly understood why air quality affects these two things, studies have found a strong link between clean, healthy air and happiness!
Air is the most important element for human life, but it also affects the health of plants, animals, vegetation, economy and many other things, either directly or indirectly. So, take the time to implement the simple steps learned in this article to enhance all aspects of your life, health and wellness.