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Tuesday August 3 2:13 PM ET

Air pollution reduces athletic performance

NEW YORK, Aug 03 (Reuters Health) -- Levels of carbon monoxide pollution in city air can impair the athletic stamina of otherwise healthy young men, researchers report.

Carbon monoxide pollution has ``adverse effects on skeletal muscles, causing decreased exercise performance,'' explain Israeli researchers led by Dr. Haim Bitterman of Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, Israel. Their findings are published in the August issue of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Carbon monoxide exposure inhibits the flow of oxygen to cells, and inhalation of the colorless, odorless gas is a leading cause of poisoning death. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning -- confusion, headache, fatigue -- usually begin to appear when carbon monoxide levels in blood hemoglobin exceed 10%. And according to previous studies, daily exposure
to polluted urban air can cause blood levels of carbon monoxide to rise to between 2% and 6%.

To determine the physiologic effects of urban air pollution, the researchers had 15 healthy young males (aged 18 to 35 years) perform treadmill exercise tests after being exposed to about 4 minutes of either unpolluted air or carbon monoxide-tainted 'city' air.

According to the authors, the polluted air had ``a detrimental effect on the exercise performance of young healthy men.'' When exposed to clean air, the men were able to run on the treadmill for an average of 15.3 minutes before exhaustion. After being exposed to the carbon monoxide-tainted air, however, exhaustion set in at about 13.7 minutes -- a full minute-and-a-half less.

Bitterman and colleagues believe that exposure to urban pollution may trigger an ``early fatigue of skeletal muscles.'' They point out that carbon monoxide is found in high quantities in cigarette smoke, as well, so that ``smokers chronically exposed to air pollution may... (face) a more severe threat to their health.''

SOURCE: Occupational and Environmental Medicine 1999;56:535-538.

last update 24 Oct 1999

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