Does Outdoor Training Make You Dumb?

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The London Olympics are behind us, but the question of the effects of air pollution during exercise still lingers—kind of  like the smell of car exhaust in your clothes after a rush hour run.

While previous research in rats found that exercising outside in polluted air might protect your lungs, a new report by Belgian researchers  showed that outdoor training could block cognitive gains.

In the study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, scientists found that students who trained outdoors in a small town improved their mental ability during a 12-week exercise program. Students who exercised outside in a polluted city, however, didn’t see any jump in brain power.

Researchers also found that inflammation—in the lungs and throughout the body—increased with pollution. 

Does this mean you should sit on the couch during days with poor air quality? Not at all. The benefits of exercise are clear, and the previous rat study showed that exercise might protect your lungs from air pollution.

Before you head out to exercise along the highway during rush hour, though, here are some tips to keep you breathing well—and thinking clearly—after your run.

  • Check air quality levels on your local news or weather station before your outdoor training, especially if you live in heavily urban areas, or have respiratory or heart conditions.
  • Exercise inside in an air-conditioned gym on days with poor air quality. Give time for your breathing to return to normal before venturing outside.
  • Choose quieter areas away from heavy traffic for your workouts.
  • Avoid rush hour for your outdoor training sessions.

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