WOODS CROSS — The health benefits of regular exercise are well-documented. But a growing body of medical research suggests even short-term exposure to bad air can impact heart and lung health.
State health and environmental quality officials want Utahns to use information and tools to enable them to enjoy outdoor activity but minimize the health impacts of exposure to ozone pollution.
Dr. Robert Rolfs, deputy director of the Utah Department of Health, says ozone levels are predictable, peaking between noon and 6 p.m. To minimize health risks, Utahns should exercise earlier in the morning or in the evenings, Rolfs said during a news conference Monday.
Rolfs, for example, rides his bicycle up Emigration Canyon three mornings a week.
"It's cool, the ozone is low, the sunrise is beautiful and it's a great time to exercise," he said.
Ozone pollution, which is formed during hot, sunny days, can irritate the respiratory systems of even healthy people. When people exercise vigorously, ozone penetrates deeper into the lungs, rendering them more vulnerable to injury.
Ozone has not reached dangerous levels this summer, according to real-time monitoring conducted by the Utah Division of Air Quality. However, wildfire smoke and stagnant conditions can significantly boost ozone pollution levels.
Ozone is created by the sun's heat and light acting upon gases and pollution in the atmosphere.
Repeated ozone exposure can damage the cells that line the lungs and can lead to developing chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, asthma, decreased lung function and more severe respiratory infections.
For people with certain cardiac conditions, exposure to air pollution is particularly problematic, according to research conducted by cardiologists at Intermountain Medical Center.
"For Utahns with coronary heart disease, risk of heart attack doubles on days with high pollution episodes," said Dr. Brent Muhlestein, a cardiologist and researcher at Intermountain Medical Center.
Intermountain researchers are attempting to determine a link between air pollution and atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can cause poor blood flow to the body.
They also are attempting to determine if there is a connection between air pollution and a high rate of abdominal aortic aneurysms among Utahns. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can cause life-threatening bleeding.
The connection between exposure to cigarette smoke and heart and lung diseases are well-established, Muhlestein said.
"Is air pollution something like getting secondhand smoke?" he asked.
Bryce Bird, director of the Utah Division of Air Quality, encouraged Utahns to use available tools to safely recreate outdoors. Visit www.airquality.utah.gov and click on "current conditions" for current ozone levels.
State and local officials are also encouraging Utahns to limit vehicle use and increase their use of mass transit as part of the annual Clear the Air Challenge.
The goals for this year's challenge are eliminating 300,000 vehicle trips to save 2 million vehicle miles traveled and to get 10,000 people to take the pledge.