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Study says air pollution can make people lazy

The surprising discovery came after scientists examined how the levels of background pollution affected levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour

Air pollution makes us lazy, with current levels responsible for 22 minutes a day of inactivity.

The surprising discovery came after scientists examined how the levels of background pollution affected levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

The new University of Leicester study revealed that long-term exposure to current levels of UK air pollution can lead to 22 more minutes a day spent lazing around.

Sedentary behaviour was defined as the amount of time spent lying, reclining, sitting or standing still.

Higher levels of sedentary behaviour are known to be linked to poorer health, including heart disease, several types of cancer and an earlier death.

Dr Jonathan Goldney from the University of Leicester said: “We know that air pollution is associated with cardiometabolic and respiratory diseases, and in 2019, the World Health Organisation estimated that 99% of the global population breathes air containing high levels of pollutants. Levels of air pollution may affect people’s ability to exercise or their enjoyment of exercise.”

“It may also be considered a risk factor for increasing levels of sedentary behaviour by encouraging sitting time indoors and discouraging active time outdoors, further increasing the risk of chronic disease in a feedback loop,” Dr Goldney said.

To get their results the team looked at data from 644 people at risk of type 2 diabetes who were taking part in a program to increase physical activity through walking.

Dr. Goldney added: “The participants in the study wore accelerometers around their waists for seven consecutive days during waking hours.

“This gave us their daily minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and sedentary time on three occasions over a three-year period and an incredible opportunity to look for any long-term trends.”

The annual average levels of the most measured air pollutants in health research from the year the participant entered the study and the preceding two years were then compared to the annual change in sedentary time.

Dr. Goldney said: “Although the levels of pollutants we measured were not associated with a change in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity or number of steps taken, we found that they were associated with an annual increase in sedentary time.

“An increase of 1 μgm−3 in the average concentration of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide was associated with an increase in sedentary time of 1.52 minutes per day per year in the most conservative model.

“And across the group, our findings suggest that high levels of exposure to nitrogen dioxide were associated with up to 22 minutes per day of increased sedentary time per year.

“We observed this association regardless of how concentrations of pollutants were measured, including as a three-year average or as the average pollutant concentration during the 12-month observation period.”

The researchers believe that these findings, published in the Journal of Public Health, highlight a need to reduce air pollution to assist with public health.

Dr. Goldney concluded: “If levels of air pollution are causing this increase in sedentary time, interventions to reduce ambient air pollution concentration, such as low emissions zones, could have a really positive impact on individual’s levels of sedentary behaviour and a significant effect on public health.”

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