Sucking up lungfuls of car exhaust is a bad idea in anyone’s book. But new research shows that air pollution harms more than just your lungs. More than 20 heart experts agree that air pollution is a major cause of heart disease, according to a study published in the European Heart Journal. And in a separate study from the Harvard School of Public Health, there’s a connection between air pollution and autism, too.
Women who breathe in high levels of air pollution during late pregnancy may be twice as likely to bear a child who develops autism, as compared with women who breathe clean air. The toxic air can come from fires, vehicle exhaust, and industrial smokestacks.
Air pollution is now the ninth biggest risk factor in heart disease that people can avoid, the heart experts wrote in the European Heart Journal. It can wreak more havoc on your cardiovascular system than sedentary behavior, high cholesterol, high-salt diet, or drug use.
Citing health concerns, the Environmental Protection Agency has set higher standards for air quality, which must be met by 2020. Meanwhile, U.S. News and World Report suggests a few simple steps to limit your exposure to toxic fumes:
- Check your local Air Quality Index at Airnow.gov to find out whether the outdoor air is clean.
- When exercising outside, schedule your workouts before rush hour.
- Stay away from heavy traffic, especially diesel exhaust fumes from big trucks and buses. If you’re stuck in heavy traffic, set your fan to recirculate air rather than drawing it from outside.
- Avoid traveling to cities that are notorious for air pollution. (Think Mexico City, Cairo, Delhi, and many Chinese metropolitan areas.)
- Don’t smoke or inhale second-hand smoke