Question of the Week

May 1, 2006


As the weather warms, the air quality can decline. The "Ozone Season for many states is May - September"

What does that mean to me for today?

"Tuesday, May 2 [2006] - Wednesday, May 3 [2006]: In California's Central Valley, high pressure will lead to light winds, allowing pollutant levels to increase. In addition, plentiful sunshine and warm temperatures will aid in ozone formation. As a result, AQI [Air Quality Index] levels will be Moderate in many locations. AQI levels will increase into the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range in Bakersfield. In the Midwest and South, an approaching low pressure system will result in light to moderate southerly winds, transporting moisture and pollutants into the region. In addition, sunny skies in the South will enhance the formation of ozone. These conditions will lead to widespread Moderate AQI levels. In the Southwest and South Central U.S., warm temperatures, sun, and generally light winds will cause ozone and particle levels to be in the Moderate AQI range."

If you are not reading this on May 2 or 3 in 2006, you can visit the following website for "Current Air Quality Conditions Nationwide":

If you haven't given much thought to the air you breathe, you are not alone, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to change that...

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service urge Americans to 'Be Air Aware' during Air Quality Awareness Week, May 15 - 19, 2006."
(Information and topics for each day are available at the above website.)

If you have a health condition that affects your breathing, like asthma, you are more likely to pay attention to air quality than most. Days when the air quality is bad are more likely to affect the young, the elderly, and those with respiratory conditions (like asthma). While those more directly affected may be acutely aware of the air quality on a given day, we all have to breathe. What can you do to improve the air where you live?

"You can help reduce pollution in your community by following these guidelines. These recommendations are especially important when ozone is expected to be unhealthy:
* Conserve electricity and set your air conditioner at a higher temperature.
* Choose a cleaner commute´┐Żshare a ride to work or use public transportation. Combine errands and reduce trips.
* Bicycle or walk to errands when possible.
* Defer use of gasoline-powered lawn and garden equipment for later in the day, or for days when the air quality is better.
* Refuel cars and trucks after dusk.
* Limit engine idling.
* Get regular engine tune ups and car maintenance checks (especially for the spark plugs).
* Avoid spilling gas and don't "top off" the tank. Replace gas tank cap tightly.
* Properly dispose of household paints, solvents and pesticides. Store these materials in airtight containers.
* Paint with a brush, not a sprayer.
* Buy low VOC paints for indoor and outdoor painting jobs."

Using the car less (and more efficiently) is in the news recently to help people deal with high gas prices. What may not be mentioned is that many of these same practices can help improve the health of the community through improved air quality -- and improve individual health with the extra
benefits of extra exercise.

"The positive consequences of bicycling and walking as healthy modes of transportation, or as purely recreational activities, span across many aspects of our lives. They can be expressed in terms of the health of environment (and resulting health of all living things), as well as the health of individuals who are more physically active. ... 
"health benefits: Regular exercise provides a myriad of health benefits.
      "transportation benefits: Avoid rush hour madness... 'Bicycling and walking can help to reduce roadway congestion.'
      "environmental benefits: Did you know that a short, four-mile round trip by bicycle keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air we breathe?"

Busy life? No time to exercise? What about making it part of your day? Why take the time to drive to the gym, when you can use that extra time and walk to school or work?

"Walking is good for your heart. A recent Harvard study shows that walking at a moderate pace (3 mph) for up to 3 hours a week--or 30 minutes a day--can cut the risk of heart disease in women by as much as 40%. This is the same benefit you would get from aerobics, jogging, or other vigorous exercise. The benefits to men are comparable. Along with its benefits to the heart, walking:
* improves circulation
* helps breathing
* combats depression
* bolsters the immune system
* helps prevent osteoporosis
* helps prevent and control diabetes
* helps control weight ...
Studies have also shown that people are most likely to stick to exercise when it is part of their daily lives. ... This enables people to incorporate walking into activities they would be doing anyway. Once you start looking for opportunities to walk, you will be amazed at how many there are."

Too far to walk? Still no time? Why not try riding a bicycle?

"Regular cycling can help manage or prevent many disorders, including obesity, coronary heart disease and arthritis. This low impact form of exercise is a fuel-efficient way to get around, since it takes far less energy to cover one kilometre by bicycle than on foot. Perhaps this explains why the bicycle is such a popular form of transport throughout the world, with an estimated one billion people using bicycles every day. Riding to work or to the shops is one of the most time-efficient ways to incorporate regular exercise into your everyday routine. You get your 'daily dose' without having to spend extra time at the gym."
BHC, Victoria (Australia) Government

As when starting any new exercise routine, it is a good idea to check with your doctor -- especially if you have a health condition that should be taken into consideration when creating a plan that is right for you.

"Exercise can be a trigger for people when their asthma [is] not under good control. People with asthma should not avoid exercising. As long as your asthma is under control, exercising is recommended to keep your lungs and body in good shape.
Exercise helps you:
* Strengthen your breathing muscles
* Boost your immune system
* Keep a healthy body weight
All of these benefits can improve your asthma in the long run. The key to exercise- make sure you asthma is under control before you start. It's a fact: Having asthma does not mean you cannot exercise. Many well-known athletes have managed their asthma to successfully compete in their chosen sports. Famous athletes who have asthma include hockey player Gary Roberts, runner Donovan Bailey, and triathlete Sharon Donnelly"
the Lung Association, Canada

Reminder! On days when air quality is questionable, it is important that high risk individuals are extra careful, especially with outdoor exercise.

Questions of the Week:
What do your peers, family members, and those in your community need to know about air quality? How do days with unhealthy air quality affect you? How might they affect others differently? What influence do you (and those around you) have on the quality of the air you breathe? What can you do to help improve the air quality where you live? How can you, your peers, and people who live in your community make minor lifestyle changes that will improve individual health and the quality of the air which you share? What major lifestyle changes do you think people could make? How might those living in different communities be able to make different changes (minor, major, or somewhere in-between)?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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