The cardiovascular health benefits of running are well known, but running in towns and cities now poses a new health risk. Pollution and smog are on the increase and breathing in these toxic fumes can be very damaging to your health. It’s thought that the poor quality of air in towns and cities is responsible for thousands of unnecessary deaths all over the UK. Running can expose you to this risk, so how can you exercise but not damage your health by breathing in unhealthy air?
One way to protect yourself from these fumes is to change where you run, but this is often easier said than done. Another option which allows you to run wherever you want to is to wear a pollution mask for running. When you run, or take part in any form of exercise, you normally breathe through your mouth, so you will breathe in more polluted air and harmful particles. A pollution mask for running will filter these out so you breathe better quality air, which in turn means you will benefit more physically and emotionally from your run. Breathing purer air also means you can push yourself harder to get more from your workout.
We’re all used to seeing pictures from other countries where people wear masks, and with our own air becoming more and more polluted all the time, more and more people here are using pollution masks when exercising outside. If you’ve never worn one before, what do you need to look out for when you’re buying one?
What is a pollution mask for running?
A pollution mask is a face mask which has been specially designed to filter out harmful fumes and particles which are often caused by the high volume of traffic now on our roads. The mask covers the nose and mouth, and they come in different styles and sizes, including children’s sizes. They are also easy to maintain so the right mask should last you a long time.
A pollution mask for running is similar to a respirator which uses filtration technology to help you breathe in less harmful substances. The air you breathe will be cleaner and purer thanks to the filtration system. If you didn’t wear a mask, you would simply breathe all the toxic chemicals in, as well as any particles which may be in the air. Pollution masks can also help people with allergies by protecting them from pollen and other allergens in the air.
Reasons for using a pollution mask
Smog and pollution in towns and cities contain many harmful chemicals and particles which a pollution mask for running can protect you against.
- In towns and cities there is a higher concentration of exhaust fumes and with the population growing and more cars on the road, these fumes are likely to increase. While these fumes often don’t smell very nice, exposure to them can also result in health problems. Exhaust fumes contain carbon dioxide and inhaling this can cause symptoms resembling a cold. At higher concentrations it can also cause dizziness and nausea. Exhaust emissions also contain hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxide which can cause headaches and nausea and they can also be linked to more serious illnesses. The filtration system on a pollution mask will filter out almost all of these gases, protecting you from the potentially harmful consequences.
- Pollution masks are also designed to block particulate matter, or PM. This includes any particles which are suspended in the air such as dust, pollen, soot and smoke and they can also be liquid matter such as steam and rain. PM is measured in microns, and the smaller the particulate matter, the smaller the number. The very fine particulate matter which cannot be seen by the naked eye, is considered by some reports to be the most dangerous. Exposure to these particles can trigger allergies and in high enough quantities can lead to other health problems too.
- Pollen and other allergens in the air can cause hay fever and be a big problem for asthma sufferers, so a pollution mask can be a huge benefit to any allergy sufferer. It makes it healthier to run in urban areas and you can enjoy a country run too knowing your allergy won’t be triggered.
- Then of course there are the bacteria, viruses and other pathogens in the air which we all want to avoid. A mask can be of particularly good use during the flu season.
- The mask can also protect you from breathing in very cold air in the winter which may help you avoid coughs and respiratory problems.
The value of wearing a pollution mask
The effectiveness of a pollution mask is hard to measure, as no one can foresee how running without one will affect you. There is, however, clear evidence, that they do work and that they are beneficial to anyone exposed to pollution.
Kings College in London recently carried out a survey which suggested that up to 9500 die in London alone as a result of exposure to air pollution. With other UK cities now following London with high pollution, this figure could get a lot worse.
A pollution mask for running may not always block 100% of all particles in the air, and some studies show that the smallest particulate matter will not be filtered out. As a mask will still increase the quality of air you breathe, it will make it easier to exercise and help you to stay healthier.
What to look for when buying a mask
When looking for the best pollution mask for running, you need to consider your budget as well as the design of the mask. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a reliable mask, but if you know you’ll be using it regularly, it may be worth you getting a higher specification mask which will enable you to run in almost any environment.
Here are a few things to check when looking for your mask.
- The first thing you need to decide on is the size and weight. Running with a mask on isn’t easy, as the simple motion of going up and down while you run can cause the mask to keep falling down. Your pollution mask needs to be adjustable so it will remain in place while you run. You also need to ensure there no gaps where it fits your face, where gases and matter could still get through. Most masks will have a size chart to help you and it’s important you stick to this. Before you set off on your run, always take the time to fit your mask properly.
- The filter is a consideration. While all masks are designed to filter out particles and fumes, not all will help if you suffer from allergies. If you do, then a Hepa-type filter is one option. For best results, the filters should be removable and washable, or at the very least, replaceable. If the filter gets clogged up, you could still breathe in fumes and particles.
- Masks with exhalation valves can also help with your breathing when running. Some filters make it harder to exhale, and this can create condensation inside the mask. Choosing a mask with exhalation valves can make a big difference to your overall comfort. If you are physically exerting yourself, ventilation is an important consideration.
- All particulate matter is given a PM number based on the size and coarseness of the particles. A pollution mask which filters out only low PM numbers will offer less protection than one which filters out higher, more coarse particles.
- The best protection is offered by a mask which is N99 tested, as it blocks out the most gases, viruses and particles as well as 99% of particulate matter. The next level down is a N95, which may not be quite as effective. If you are running outside a city centre, this may provide the protection you need.
Maintaining a pollution mask
As well as finding a mask which will protect you in the environment you run in, you also need to find one which is easy to maintain. Maintenance is particularly important to ensure it remains effective.
A pollution mask for running should have filters which can be removed and cleaned, and be replaced with new ones if they need to be. It doesn’t take long for a filter to become clogged up with particles, and it’s recommended that filters are cleaned or changed once a month at the very least.
The rest of the mask should be wiped using just clean, warm water to help remove any particles and dirt attached to it.
There is no doubt that wearing a pollution mask for running can offer you benefits as long as you take the time to find the right one for you. Inhaling cleaner air is not only healthier overall, but the cleaner air will also benefit your exercise, as you will be able to run harder and faster.
Your pollution mask may take some getting used to, but once you have you can relax and run, knowing that you really are getting the most out of your exercise.