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Air Pollution Linked to Anxiety

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Being outdoors is supposed to make you calmer, happier, and less stressed, but a new study in The British Medical Journal says that may not always be the case. Researchers found that women who had higher exposure to air pollution were more likely to suffer from anxiety.

And while that's scary, it's not like your running route is through smog, so you're probably fine...right? Actually, researchers found it's not necessarily about the polluted places you travel through: Women who simply lived within 200 meters of a major road were more likely to have higher anxiety symptoms than those living in peace and quiet.

What gives? The anxiety is tied to fine particulate matter—which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies as under 2.5 microns in diameter (a grain of sand is 90 microns). These particles are found in smoke and haze, and can easily travel deep into your lungs and cause inflammation. This study suggests a possible link between inflammation and mental health.

For outdoor exercisers, air pollution can be a big concern (who wants to inhale car fumes every time you go for a run?). But don't switch to the treadmill just yet—the latest research from the University of Copenhagen actually shows that the benefits of exercise outweigh the harmful effects of pollution. (Plus, the Air Quality at Your Gym May Not Be So Clean either.) And if you're worried, breathe easy on your run by following these five guidelines.

1. Filter your air. If you live near a busy road, the EPA recommends changing the filters in your heaters and air conditioners regularly and keeping the humidity in your home between 30 and 50 percent, which you can monitor using a humidity gauge. If the air is too dry, use a humidifier, and if the humidity is too high, open the windows to allow some moisture out.

2. Run in the morning. Air quality can change throughout the day, which means you can plan your outdoor workouts to coincide with the cleanest hours. Air quality tends to be worse in the heat, afternoons, and early evening, so mornings are best. (You can also check the air quality conditions in your area at airnow.gov.)

3. Add some C. Some studies have shown that eating foods high in vitamin C, like from citrus fruits and dark green veggies, could also help to combat the effects of air pollution—the antioxidant can stop free radicals from damaging cells.

4. Supplement with oil. Another study found that olive oil supplements may help protect against cardiovascular damage from air pollutants.

5. Head for the woods. The surest way to protect against air pollution if you're an avid outdoor exerciser may be to avoid busy roads where vehicle exhaust is highest. If you're worried, use this as an excuse to hit the trails!

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