Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Air We Breathe

Clean Air -- an odd concept in a way. We assume it, take it for granted; it's invisible, odorless, and can't be felt, except when it's moving. It is so much a part of daily existence that most of us hardly give it notice, and yet, it's a mandatory essential part of staying alive. Cut it off for even five minutes and you're in fatal trouble. Clean air supplies not only the oxygen we need, but apart from that obvious dimension, breathing accomplishes two other vital functions. Breathing clean air is important in regulating our body's acid-base balance, as well as being a crucial pathway for detoxification. Breathing is one of the four toxin elimination pathways the body uses to cleanse itself.

So, good health relies heavily on clean air and a vital breathing mechanism. Urban environments pose particular health challenges to our good health. Urban environments contain much higher levels of contaminants and toxins in the air we breathe. While exercising is an important health thing to do for oneself, at least half of the benefit from exercising is from the increased circulation of clean air through our lungs and bodies. When I'm walking or jogging along a busy street I always get creeped out by the question that pops up in my head: "How much carbon monoxide and carbon emissions am I breathing from all these cars going by?" Even the air inside our homes, offices, or schools can be suspect, what with the large number of chemicals present in floor and wall coverings, furniture, construction materials, and central heating/air conditioning systems. The impact on one's breathing from just these sources can be substantial. That said, who in their right mind would then ADD to it by smoking -- a practice I still see being done with alarming frequency!

Lest you think that moving to a less developed nation solves the problem, it doesn't. Consider how in the developing world cooking frequently occurs over an open fire inside whatever structure is being used for a house. The concentrated second-hand smoke from cook fires creates a large public health issue where the incidence of pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and lung cancer tend to run very high. So, the poorest of the world's poor get slammed with these devastating illnesses where there is poor health care. Add to it that the average family in Guatemala, for instance, spends up to a third of their income for firewood. So, they make themselves poorer only to give themselves serious pulmonary disease.

What can you do?
Sadly, in our urban American environment there isn't a lot -- other than to be conscious of where you are and what is going on around you from a pollution aspect -- most importantly when exercising. Supporting clean air regulations at every level of government is another consideration.

In developing countries -- one organization,, is working to supply poor peasants in Guatemala with fuel efficient cook stoves. These cook stoves cut down on the amount of firewood needed (reducing deforestation and leaving more disposable income available), and improves air quality (improving health.)

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