As the devastating bushfires continue to burn across Australia, smoke pollution has blanketed many cities and surrounding areas around the country. With fires expected to blaze for months, and dozens of communities fighting to protect their lives and homes, many are living with smoke haze and thick smog. In recent days, Melbourne and Sydney’s air quality have been ranked among the worst in the world, causing many to question whether it’s safe to be exercising outdoors.
In response to this concern, The NSW Public Health Unit and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) have released guidelines regarding the safety of exercising outdoors based on the the Air Quality Index (AQI). Each state and territory reports real-time AQI ratings online, which indicates the current level of air quality and advice on how this will affect the health of the individual.
The table below highlights the recommendations for exercise in relation to the current AQI rating:
Why is it risky to exercise in the smoke?
Bushfire smoke irritates the respiratory system, and contains fine particles that can travel deep into the lungs, causing damage. When we exercise, our breathing and respiration rate increases, thus increasing our total exposure to the pollutants contained in the smoke. With elevated exposure to pollution, the respiratory tracts defence mechanism to trap, transport and clear pollutants effectively becomes compromised.
This can lead to a shortness of breath, coughing and respiratory discomfort. For asthmatics, these symptoms may be felt more intensely and be particularly harmful. People over 65, children 14 years and younger, pregnant women and those with existing heart or lung conditions are also high-risk groups.
Where is it safe to exercise?
When the air quality is low, it is important to minimise exposure and where possible, keep your workouts indoors.
Jump on the treadmill or exercise bike, hit up the weights section in the gym, or complete a bodyweight circuit at home – while it might not be ideal, it’s a much safer option and better than no exercise at all.
Air pollution is generally lowest in the early morning and evening, so if you’re busting to get moving outdoors, these times may work in your favour.
Are some types of exercises safer than others?
Strenuous exercise will significantly increase breathing rate and volume, and should therefore be avoided when the air quality is poor. Moderate exercise such as cycling, walking or gentle swimming will be safer than more intense workouts.
Anaerobic strength training, rather than aerobic or HIIT training will also be more favourable in poor conditions.
If at any point you feel symptoms getting worse, stop training and consult your doctor.
The following links can be used to help determine the air quality in your area:
- Australian Capital Territory
- New South Wales
- Western Australia
- South Australia
Our thoughts are with all of those who are currently being affected by the bushfires. To show our support and to help those who need it most, the team at AFA will be participating in a fundraising activity with all proceeds going directly to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.
For a full list of organisations you can support and donate to, click this link.