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Stay fit as pollution drops

AFP Relaxnews
AFP Relaxnews • 6 min read
Stay fit as pollution drops
Five-minute workouts work just as well and air quality has improved during lockdown
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Five-minute workouts work just as well and air quality has improved during lockdown

If you are struggling to stay fit during the Covid-19 confinement then you might want to try a new short workout designed by a Canadian researcher, which he says will challenge the whole body in just five minutes. Dr Brendon Gurd at the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University in Ontario has previously investigated how to effectively work out using whole body interval training in small spaces such as submarines.

His research now lends itself well to working out during the current lockdowns, when many of us are finding ourselves short of space for exercise and with minimal or no equipment. Using the principles of high-intensity interval training, more commonly known as HIIT, and Tabata, which incorporate exercises that are performed in high-energy bursts for a short period of time to work major muscle groups, Gurd has developed a routine that can be completed in just five minutes, with no equipment, and you don’t need much more room than the space on your mat.

“Among the most commonly cited barriers to being physically active in most populations are time and access to equipment,” says Gurd. “Our research studies demonstrate that whole-body interval training improves aerobic fitness similar to traditional endurance training (such as running on a treadmill for 30 minutes), but provides the additional benefit of improving some strength and muscle endurance outcomes.”

“Physical fitness is an important determinant of health and disease risk,” explains Gurd. “Remaining active and fit are two things that we can control. Maintaining some control in our lives through regular exercise, in addition to the direct benefits of exercise on our mental and physical health, may help us to cope with the stress associated with the current environment.”

Even better, the five-minute workout is suitable for the whole family to do together while living in lockdown, with Gurd enlisting the help of his kids for a short video to show us the moves. You can follow along with the video on YouTube, or as most of the movements are ones we’re already familiar with, just follow the following instructions: eight 20-second intervals of jumping jacks with a ten-second rest between each interval, followed by eight 20-second intervals of push-ups with a 10-second rest between each interval, then the same format for hockey stances, followed by planks.

Then for a whole body cool down, finish with another eight 20-second set of jumping jacks. Gurd says that a total workout can be completed in under five minutes, and you should see results fairly quickly — previous findings have shown that doing the short workout just four days a week for four weeks is enough to improve muscle endurance.

Less air pollution means less deaths

European countries under coronavirus lockdown have seen 11,000 fewer deaths in April compared to the same period last year due to a sharp drop in fossil fuel pollution, according to research released on May 1.

Measures to halt the spread of coronavirus have slowed the region’s economies to a crawl, with coal-generated power falling by nearly 40%, and oil consumption by a third. Globally, oil use has declined by about the same amount, with drops in coal consumption varying by region.

An unintended boon of shuttered factories and empty roads has been more breathable air. Levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and small particle pollution known as PM2.5 — both toxic by-products burning coal, oil and gas — fell 37% and 10%, respectively, according to the findings. “The impacts are the same or bigger in many other parts of the world,” lead author Lauri Myllyvirta, senior analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA), tells AFP. In China, for example, NO2 and PM2.5 levels declined by a 25% and 40% during the most stringent period of lockdown, with an even sharper fall in Hubei Province, where the global pandemic began. “So, we are looking at an even larger number of avoided deaths,” Myllyvirta says.

Air pollution shortens lives worldwide by nearly three years on average, and causes 8.8 million premature deaths annually, according to a study last month. The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates 4.2 million deaths, but has underestimated the impact on cardiovascular disease, recent research has shown. Worst-hit is Asia, where average lifespan is cut to 4.1 years in China, 3.9 years in India, and 3.8 years in Pakistan. In Europe, life expectancy is shortened by eight months.

“Our analysis highlights tremendous benefits for public health and quality of life that could be achieved by rapidly reducing fossil fuels in a sustained and sustainable way,” Myllyvirta says. Pollution and Covid-19 The happenstance evidence that less air pollution saves lives should guide governments deciding on how to reboot their economies, noted Maria Neira, the WHO’s director for Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “When we eventually take off our face masks, we want to keep breathing clean air,” she says, commenting on the findings.

“If we truly care about the health of our communities, countries and global commons, we must find ways of powering the planet without relying on fossil fuels.” Compared to other causes of premature death, air pollution worldwide kills 19 times more people each year than malaria, nine times more than HIV/AIDS, and three times more than alcohol. Another study comparing more than 3,000 US counties, meanwhile, found that PM 2.5 pollution is directly linked with higher Covid-19 death rates.

One extra micron per cubic metre corresponded to a 15% jump in Covid-19 mortality, researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported earlier this month. The results “suggest that long-term exposure to air pollution increases vulnerability to experiencing the most severe Covid-19 outcomes,” they wrote. PM 2.5 particles penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular respiratory problems.

In 2013, the WHO classified it as a cancer-causing agent. In India’s Uttar Pradesh — home to 200 million — small particle pollution by itself slashes life expectancy by 8.5 years, while in China’s Hebei Province (population 74 million) the shortfall is nearly six years, according to the Air Quality Life Index, developed by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago. All but 2% of China’s cities exceeded WHO guidelines for PM 2.5 levels, while 53% exceeded less stringent national safety limits.

The UN says PM 2.5 density should not top 25 microgrammes per cubic metres (25 mcg/m3) of air in any 24-hour period. China has set the bar at 35 mcg/m3. The new analysis from CREA matches weather conditions and changes in emissions to data on the damages to health linked to exposure to air pollution. E

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