Why a walk in the park beats a stroll on the street

UNTV News   •   December 25, 2017   •   3416

People walk under cherry blossoms inside a public park on a spring day in Lausanne April 6, 2010. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

(Reuters Health) — Older adults who take a daily constitutional may want to avoid traffic-jammed city streets and head to a park instead because polluted air diminishes the benefits of exercise, a UK study suggests.

Researchers in London randomly assigned 119 men and women age 60 or older to take two-hour walks along one of two distinct routes: through a tranquil traffic-free expanse of Hyde Park, or along Oxford Street, the city’s bustling shopping district that’s clogged with diesel-powered buses and cabs.

The study team tested the air for contaminants during each walk, and also assessed participants for lung capacity, or how easily people could breathe, and arterial stiffness, which influences how hard the heart works to pump blood through the body.

After walking in Hyde Park, healthy participants had better lung capacity and decreased arterial stiffness, the study found. But when these people walked along Oxford Street, they experienced only a slight improvement in lung capacity and their arteries got stiffer.

“Just walking at a normal pace for a couple of hours benefits the respiratory and cardiovascular system for up to 24 hours after the walk,” said senior study author Kian Fan Chung of Imperial College London.

“This in itself is a new finding, but the most interesting finding is that being exposed during that time to environmental pollution that one encounters on a busy roadside with a lot of traffic virtually negates these benefits,” Chung said by email.

Exercise has long been linked to better cardiovascular health, and the connection between air pollution exposure and a wide range of health problems including asthma and other breathing issues is also well established.

Black soot and fine particulate matter, as well as contaminants in traffic fumes, can increase the risk of getting a variety of heart and lung diseases and of dying from them.

Air pollution is responsible for around 5.5 million premature deaths worldwide every year, researchers note in The Lancet. In the UK, polluted air contributes to 40,000 deaths each year, nearly a quarter of them in London.

The current study offers fresh evidence that short-term exposure to pollution is associated with stiffening of the arteries and impaired lung function, strengthening the case for reduced vehicle emissions and more green space for exercise in cities, the researchers argue.

All of the participants in the study were non-smokers or had quit at least one year earlier. While 40 of them were healthy, 39 participants had heart disease and 40 had a breathing disorder known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Participants were randomly assigned first to do a walk in Hyde Park or on Oxford Street, then three to eight weeks later they were asked to do the other walk.

The detrimental effects of walking near traffic were most pronounced in people with COPD. These participants reported more symptoms like cough, shortness of breath and breathing after the walk on Oxford Street than in Hyde Park, and they also experienced increased arterial stiffness.

For people with heart disease, however, medication mattered. Among these participants, people only experienced increased stiffening of the arteries on Oxford Street if they weren’t taking medication to control their disease.

Based on air quality tests during each walk, it appeared that the harmful effects of walking on Oxford Street were associated with higher exposure to two byproducts of traffic exhaust: black carbon soot and ultrafine particles in the air known as PM 2.5.

One limitation of the study is that it lacked a control group of people who spent time on Oxford Street or in Hyde Park without exercising, which makes it impossible to prove how much the physical activity contributed to any changes in lung capacity or arterial stiffness, the authors note.

Even so, the study adds to the evidence that the location of exercise matter, said Dr. Dr. George Thurston, author of an accompanying editorial and director of the Program in Human Exposures and Health Effects at New York University School of Medicine.

“Given that the elimination of fossil fuel burning will not happen immediately, the public, and especially people who are most susceptible should avoid exercising near roadways with heavy traffic of diesel vehicles,” Thurston said by email.

SOURCES: bit.ly/2pcgYRR and bit.ly/2kAal6V The Lancet, online December 5, 2017.

Taiwan braces for typhoon Bailu, flights cancelled

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019

Boats are tied securely at a fishing port in Taiwan in preparation for the anticipated arrival of Typhoon Bailu.

Taiwan braced for Typhoon Bailu on Friday (August 23), prompting cancellations of domestic flights amid warnings of floods and high seas on the island.

Typhoon Bailu, categorised at the weakest typhoon level by Taiwan’s weather bureau, was expected to approach the island’s southeastern coast early on Saturday (August 24), weather officials said.

Bailu was carrying maximum winds of 126 km per hour (78 mph) as it approached Taiwan, the weather bureau said, adding that the storm could gain in strength and become the first typhoon to make landfall on the island in more than two years.

Thousands of people were moved to safety, most of them tourists on islands off the east coast, while dozens of domestic flights and ferry services were cancelled.

After passing over Taiwan, the typhoon is expected to cross the Taiwan Strait and hit the Chinese province of Fujian, forecasters said. (Reuters)

(Production: Fabian Hamacher)

Florida scientists induce spawning of Atlantic coral in lab for first time

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019

(Courtesy: Florida Aquarium)

Scientists in Florida have artificially induced reproductive spawning of an endangered Atlantic coral species for the first time in an aquarium setting, a breakthrough they say holds great promise in efforts to restore depleted reefs in the wild.

The achievement, announced this week at the Florida Aquarium in Apollo Beach near Tampa, borrowed from lab techniques developed at the London-based Horniman Museum and Gardens and used previously to induce spawning of 18 species of Pacific coral, officials said.

Scientists plan to use their newly acquired expertise to breed new coral colonies that can one day repopulate the beleaguered Florida reef system, one of the largest in the world and one decimated by climate change, pollution and disease in recent decades.

The newly cultivated corals should make for even stronger populations than existing colonies because each individual will be bred with characteristics that may be better able to withstand damage, Keri O’Neil, senior coral scientist at the Florida Aquarium told Reuters.

Inducing corals to release their eggs and sperm in aquarium tanks involves controlling their artificial settings to mimic their natural ocean habitat over the course of a yearlong reproduction cycle.

That means carefully regulating water temperature changes from summer to winter, and using special lighting to imitate sunrise, sunset and even lunar cycles that serve as biological cues for the coral in preparing to spawn.

Collaboration between the Florida and London facilities on the project began in 2017 as the situation facing Florida’s reefs grew more dire because of the spread of a new coral affliction dubbed Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease.

Atlantic pillar coral, which grows in colonies resembling finger- or column-like structures, has been particularly susceptible to the disease and is already classified as virtually extinct in the wild because remaining male and female colonies are too scattered to reproduce.

Corals are a type of marine invertebrate animal, typically living in colonies of tiny sac-like polyps that feed by filtering seawater through a set of tentacles surrounding a central mouth opening.

Corals are sensitive to major changes in water temperature, and the Florida Reef Tract, like other major reefs around the world, has been under pressure from climate change for years as the sea grows steadily warmer. (Reuters)

Bolsonaro says Brazil lacks resources to fight Amazon fires

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019

The Brazilian government lacks the resources to fight a record number of wildfires burning in the Amazon rainforest, President Jair Bolsonaro said on Thursday (August 22), weeks after telling donors he did not need their money.

Fires in the Amazon have surged 83% so far this year compared with the same period a year earlier, government figures show, destroying vast swathes of a forest considered a vital bulwark against climate change.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro said, without supporting evidence, that non-governmental organisations were behind the fires.

Questioned again on Thursday about those comments, he said he could not prove that NGOs, for whom he has cut funding, were lighting the fires but that they were “the most likely suspects.”

The firebrand right-wing president has repeatedly said he believes Brazil should open the Amazon up to business interests, to allow mining and logging companies to exploit its natural resources.

Brazil is facing growing international criticism over its handling of the Amazon, 60% of which lies in the country.

Earlier this month, Norway and Germany suspended funding for projects to curb deforestation in Brazil after becoming alarmed by changes to the way projects were selected under Bolsonaro.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on his twitter account the fires in the Amazon forest are an international emergency and should be discussed by the G7 summit that will begin on Saturday (August 24) in Biarritz, France.

Although fires are a regular and natural occurrence during the regular dry season at this time of year, environmentalists blamed the sharp rise on farmers setting the forest alight to clear land for pasture.

Federal prosecutors in Brazil said they are investigating a spike in deforestation and wildfires raging in the Amazon state of Para to determine whether there has been reduced monitoring and enforcement of environmental protections there. (Reuters)

(Production: Pablo Garcia, Leonardo Benassatto, Paul Vieira)

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