Springtime weather changes many of our activities from cozy nights curled up on the sofa to sun-filled days outdoors. But with that change of scenery also comes a change in air – especially air quality.
Those who are sensitive to the fluctuations in air quality often depend on the Air Quality Index (AQI) to let them know how clean or polluted the air is. It also informs them of any associated health effects that might affect sensitive people, focusing on how a few hours, or even days, participating in outdoor activities might affect wellness.
The AQI is a scale that runs from 0 to 500, with higher numbers affecting health more dramatically. For example, an AQI score of 50 represents very good air quality, while a score over 300 represents hazardous air. Actually, any value greater than 100 is considered unhealthy for certain sensitive groups.
The AQI centers on 5 major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act – ground level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Ground level ozone and airborne particles are the most harmful to people.
But even people with a high sensitivity to air contaminates can still enjoy the great outdoors. They just need to plan accordingly. If the AQI is predicted to be higher than 100 – putting it into the orange level, which can be unhealthy for sensitive groups – plan activities for earlier in the day when pollutant levels are generally lower, shorten activities or reduce intensity.
If air quality is still too oppressive, try walking indoors at a mall or on a gym treadmill. If the air quality is predicted to stay that way for a few days, try indoor swimming or an aerobic-type class.
It’s not just exercising that can have an impact on lung health. It’s basically any outdoor activity, including yard work and other chores. On those high number days, plan less-strenuous activities, such as pulling weeds or planting new flowers, instead of heavy raking or pushing a lawn mower.
During Air Quality Awareness Week, make it a special effort to understand how the air you breathe makes a difference in your health.
To find the AQI forecast, visit AirNow and locate your particular area on the map.
You can also download the AirNow App for use with iPhone or Android.
Or sign up for AirNow EnviroFlash to receive air quality info at your email or mobile phone.
Visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for in-depth details about Air Quality Forecast Guidance.
If you learned more about the importance of clean air, and know family or friends who might benefit, consider sharing this article and links with them.