by Aswanth, Santrupti engineers

Marathon day! A fine Sunday morning in New Delhi. About 30000 people participated in that big race. And then there were a few who wore pollution masks while running. People wearing pollution masks in a Marathon?

Let’s roll back the film.

Pollution and its effects in Athletics are one of those things which are untold in many parts of the world. Long time’s gone since Edwin Flack won the first ever 1500m ever in 1896 Olympics. The population of heavy haulers and cars weren’t that high as of now.  People lived their life peacefully breathing much better and unpolluted air those times. Since then Air quality is taking its toll on our dear athletes pretty bad.  Here are some of the notable incidents

  • 1984, Los Angeles – British Steve Ovett collapsed following the 800m final with respiratory problems. He cited air pollution as a major contributing factor to his episode of exercise-induced asthma.
  • The study shows that despite a high altitude and air pollution problems, Mexico City had no clear environmental policy in place for the 1968 Olympic games
  • The characteristic smog of Los Angeles raised concerns about athletic performance at the Olympic Games of 1984, but there were limited efforts to tackle the ozone concentration during these games.
  • 2008,Beijing Olympics-Air pollution was at least two to three times higher than levels deemed safe by the World Health Organization.

20xx Olympics, New Delhi 


Air Pollutants linked with Poor Health?

Research has highlighted a number of pollutants of concern for performance athletes and the general public. These include particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), Nitrogen and Sulphur oxides, the ammonium ion, organic aerosols, and ozone. PM2.5 which have a diameter of about a tenth of an adult human hair and smaller, and can be breathed deep into the lung. In urban areas these particles originate from sources including traffic and industry. In India the annual average of PM 2.5 is 153. Consider an young dreamer who wants to be an athlete, but ends up practicing in an environment which has dust particles 15 times the standard limit ? Well that’s something Indian Athletes should think about !

How do those Air Pollutants affect Athlete performance?

Potential health problems resulting from exposure to air pollutants during exercise include cardiovascular complaints, decreased performance, asthma, decreased lung function, and pulmonary hypertension. Athletes are especially susceptible to health effects from air pollution for four main reasons:

  • During exercise an increased volume of air is inhaled in comparison to periods of rest.
  • In response to this exertion, more air is inhaled through the mouth than when at rest. The mouth lacks the filter systems of the nose which remove pollution before it can reach the lungs.
  • The increased air flow during exercise means that pollutants travel deeper into the lung.
  • The fraction of particulate matter that is deposited during exercise (i.e. during increased tidal volume) is higher than during periods of rest (i.e. lower tidal volume).

The key problem lies where athletes generally breathe 10 to 20 times as much air and thus pollutants. In every breath of theirs, there’s a lot of particulates going inside and getting deposited in their lungs. This is something definitely not advisable as it reduces the lung capacity of our fellow athletes. There could be a possibility that these pollution levels are impacting the Indian athletes and costing them dearly.

Delhi’s pollution was brought to light during the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Athletes from various countries felt the effects of pollution during the Commonwealth games.They found it difficult to hit the top gear due to the high concentration of particles in Delhi’s air. Even Indian Marathon champion Sunita Godhra pointed out “Delhi particulate matter’s concentration   can affect athletes as our centers for Commonwealth Games — Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and National Stadium — are near to the major roads,”.

India definitely needs a contingent plan to clean this air. The benefits of having a better air quality has to be taught right from schools, colleges etc.

  • Government should encourage the usage of green vehicles. Indian market should promote electric cars which are energy efficient and pollution free.
  • They should also encourage people to use the bicycles for travelling shorter distances. The usage of bicycles not only reduces the air pollution also benefits the health of the people.
  • They should focus on improving the public transport infrastructure. Improved and better connected transport infrastructure can potentially reduce the usage of car which in turn can reduce pollution.

The advantage of having a better air quality doesn’t only benefit our Athletes also the public masses too. It is high time Indian government starts addressing this issue seriously.

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