Everyone deserves clean air and protection from the effects of climate change

Janet R. Wojcik, Ph.D., FACSM | Jun 21, 2018

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association Administration has just released data that show that May 2018 was the hottest May on record at an average of 65.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Every state in the U.S. reported record temperatures, and there were 8,540 record highs recorded in May. The record high of 100 degrees Fahrenheit occurred in Minneapolis on May 28, 2018, when many attendees started to arrive for the 65th ACSM Annual Meeting.

biking illustrationHigher temperatures lead to higher ground level ozone, which is a pollutant that affects everyone, especially people who live in urban areas. Cities are growing in population, especially in certain parts of the U.S. where rapid increases in population lead to more cars on the roads. Motor vehicle traffic is concentrated along highways and major urban thoroughfares. Increased temperature and ground level ozone lead to poor air quality, leading to more air quality action alert days (Code Orange or Code Red) where outdoor activities need to be limited either for sensitive groups or for all. The populations most affected are persons of lower socioeconomic status, minority populations, children, senior adults, and persons with chronic diseases. Air pollution and high ground level ozone can promote asthma attacks and cause direct damage to blood vessels, making persons with heart disease vulnerable to heart attack and stroke. These challenges are not limited to the U.S. in that poor air quality, climate change, and its effects on health are global problems.

The World Health Organization advocates that by addressing and investing in active transportation, municipalities can address air quality, climate change, and health equity.  Walking, bicycling, and use of public transportation reduce vehicle emissions that add to pollution and ground level ozone while increasing the health of the active transport participants. Planting more trees not only leads to increased neighborhood aesthetics, the increased shade helps lower ambient temperatures for those persons walking and biking to help reduce urban heat island effects. Trees can capture both carbon dioxide and ozone. If municipal leaders emphasize active transport and aesthetic walking and biking routes they will help mitigate some of the effects of climate change, including its effects on air pollution, while promoting physical activity and health equity. As leading experts in sports, exercise, health, medicine, and physical activity, it is important that we collaborate and advocate for active transport as a way to improve air quality and reduce the effects of climate change for everyone.

Janet R. Wojcik, Ph.D., FACSM, ACSM-EP, ACSM/ACS CET
Associate Professor and Program Director, Exercise Science
Winthrop University
Chair, ActivEarth Task Force