How air can improve our health

The quality of the air we breath and the way in which we breathe reduces depression, increases cognitive function and improves our overall mental well being. Put simply: good air + good breathing = happy chappy.

Reduces Stress and makes you think faster

In our modern, busy and urbanised lives, it is no wonder that the majority of us walk around thinking that we could use a good massage and a holiday. Stress levels are on the up and with them, so are the amount of self help books, medication, shrinks etc, that promise results in no time… but at a cost. There’s a much simpler way to reduce stress and getting fresh air is very achievable.

Green spaces have higher oxygen levels, as plants gobble up all that CO2 you are producing, which relaxes your mind and revitalises your body. Breathing that wonderful oxygen increases your cognitive ability, reducing your reaction time and increasing your memory function. Contrary, long term exposure to air pollution can cause both learning and memory problems.

Makes You Happier

Pioneering research into the effects of air quality on our health is turning over some very interesting discoveries. My favourite being that air pollution not only has a direct link to depression, but that we can also link clean air to serotonin production - the chemical that makes us happy.

Long term exposure to bad air has a detrimental affect to our hippocampus, the area of our brain that controls depression. This is bad news for any of you living in cities. The good news, though, is that breathing clean air not only reduces symptoms of depression, but studies are now showing that they could be linked between the quality of air and the serotonin levels we produce. Why be gloomy, when all it takes to be happy is some clean air?

Better than a cup of coffee?

If you have read any of my previous articles (which you definitely should), then you will know that oxygen is used to extract energy from the food we eat. Air pollution muddies this process, reducing our energy levels and making us drowsy. Our brains however, can keep going long after our bodies wear out.

That means, if you are doing an office job and you feel tired, chances are that has nothing to do with your physiology. Rather, it has something to do with your stress levels. If we have been relatively inactive and yet still feel tired, it’s our brain that’s causing the issues, not our muscles. So if we know that fresh air improves our well-being by reducing stress and increasing happiness, then the vast majority of you readers will benefit more from clean air, than you will from a nap. That’s worth remembering the next time you wander to the coffee machine.

Still worth running

Eating right, not smoking, drinking in moderation and exercising are all proponents of protection. Going for a run in downtown Beijing could be better for your health, than not doing anything at all. As Bertil Forsberg, professor by the institute of public health and clinical medicine in Umeå, Sweden puts it:

"When you exercise you will restrain the process of inflammation that is triggered by air pollution."

And as Zorana Jovanovic Anderson at the University of Copenhagen, found in her research:

"Even for those living in the most polluted areas of Copenhagen, it is healthier to go for a run, a walk, or to cycle to work than it is to stay inactive."

and continues:

"In the face of an increasing health burden due to rising physical inactivity and obesity in modern societies, our findings provide support for efforts in promoting exercise, even in urban areas with high pollution."

Breathing Techniques

Lastly, I would be a real dweeb if I didn’t mention that all the super cool benefits are obtainable through controlled breathing, otherwise known as meditation. Controlling the amount of air we breath and concentrating on our breath can have remarkable effects on our psychology. Not only will it enhance all the above benefits of breathing clean air, but it can also temper mood swings, increase concentration and help us cope with negative emotions.

Imagine the sort of mental benefits you could get from breathing clean air, in a controlled manner. So if you want to better your life, it’s one breath away…

Man, that’s a cheesy close.

Fredrik Kempe

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