Should I Exercise In This Wildfire Smoke??
Are you wondering if it is safe to exercise with so much smoke in the air from forest fires around British Columbia? You are not alone!
Note: I have not personally reviewed the literature in depth in this area, but I am happy to provide my opinion and share some resources with you on this topic, to help you come to your own personal conclusion on the risk/reward/consequence equation for exercise in smoke.
At bit of background on my experience: I worked for five years as a forest fire fighter with the BC Forest Service Rapattack crew where we quite literally ate smoke and ash while exercising at moderate to high intensities day in and day out for months on end. At this level of exposure I did experience some short term negative effects including occasional coughing and black snot (and it took at least 4 tries to wash the smoke out of my hair after every fire lol;) But that was the extent of it for me and I did not experience any lasting negative effects. I do not, however, have any pre-existing pulmonary medical conditions and I am only an experiment of one. I am not aware of any long term studies on the effects of smoke/ash exposure for wild fire fighters so I cannot speak for the longer term effects. I like to think my lungs are pretty good, however;)
I describe my personal situation just to give you the extreme end of exposure for a healthy set of lungs. I do believe that the risks of exercise in the level of smoke we are experiencing on the Coast is very very low for individuals without any pre-existing conditions (asthma, pulmonary disease, pregnancy etc). There is, however, risk in everything. Some research that I have seen does support the benefits of exercise, outweighing the risks of air polution for low levels of particulate/polution (I have pasted a link to this Smithsonianmag article below). However, this risk/reward calculation is very individual and you must make the best decision for yourself based on the conditions and your assessment.
The particulate matter in the air we are exposed to in BC at the moment ranges, depending on how close you live to the big fires, the direction of the wind and other factors. There are two main scales used here to determine the 'air quality' and 'risk' of exposure here in BC.
1. Air Quality Health Index 1-10: see the bccdc PDF link below for recommendations at various air quality levels for 'at risk' vs 'health' individuals and then check this link online to see how your community rates to help you decide.
2. Particulate Matter Score PM 2.5 0-100 with targets for BC pollution less than 25
What are the riks of smoke exposure?
Breathing in smoke can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.It can also cause headaches and worsening of allergies. In healthy workers exposed to smoke for short periods of time, symptoms are likely to be temporary and will resolve when the smoke clears.
Who is at greatest risk?
Individuals with lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — as well as workers with other chronic diseases, pregnant women, and older adults — are likely to experience more serious or acute symptoms. These symptoms can include shortness of breath, persistent coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and increased mucous production.
Again, there are risk in all that we do and it is up to each individual to assess and determine their own level of exposure to risks. I hope this information helps you with your decisions! Safey first, then have fun!