How Smog Impacts Heart Health

smog, city skyline, sunset, skyscrapers

Do you take care of your heart by watching your cholesterol and blood pressure? Great! But maybe you should watch the sky, too: One study says high levels of particulate air pollution -- also known as smog – could raise the risk of a heart attack and other serious heart problems.

Danger in the air

In an Italian study presented at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting, researchers compared the daily levels of tiny particles in the air (known as PM10) from 2004 to 2007 with heart-related hospitalizations each day. They found that hospital admissions increased consistently along with the PM10—the higher the PM10 level, the greater the risk. Men seemed to be especially sensitive to particle levels, as were people over age 65 and those who had heart problems previously.

Particulate air pollution comes from sources like road dust, farming, logging and fires. Other studies have suggested that it narrows blood vessels and disturbs heart rhythm. And in addition to heart problems, it can also cause breathing problems, damage lung tissue and even lead to cancer. The World Health Organization estimates that it is responsible for 800,000 premature deaths each year, ranking it the 13th leading cause of mortality worldwide.

Protect yourself

The study gives more weight to calls for regulators to improve air quality. In the meantime, here are some ways you can protect yourself from the tiny particles:

  • Eat fish. A study found that a daily fish oil supplement protected people over 60 from air-pollution-induced irregular heartbeats.
  • Check the forecast. The American Heart Association says certain groups (people who are at risk for heart disease, who have heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, and older adults) should limit their activity on high-pollution days. You can check your daily local air quality report at airnow.gov.
  • Keep your heart in good shape. Remember to eat heart healthy foods, get plenty of rest and incorporate more exercise into your daily routine.

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