The Importance of Clean Air

In 1952, thousands of people died within five days in London…

For days, the city was blanketed in a haze of smoke and fog (smog). It was so thick that you could barely see in front of your nose. The smog – caused by bad weather and smoke from coal – sickened more than 100,000 people. Estimates on deaths range from 4,000 to as high as 12,000.

When the haze finally lifted, people demanded the government take action to avoid a repeat of the Great Smog. Four years later, Parliament passed the Clean Air Act of 1956.

But air pollution isn’t just a problem of the past…

If you’ve been outside recently, you may have noticed the worsening air quality spreading across the country. Smog is dulling our skylines… and choking the creatures living within.

Last month, air pollution from the wildfires on the West Coast darkened skies all the way to the East Coast, threatening the health of the entire nation. Longtime subscribers know I’ve frequently discussed how important air quality is to health – I use HEPA air filters in the two places I spend the most time… the bedroom and the living room.

The air we breathe impacts every part of us. The lungs and heart team up to deliver oxygenated blood all over the body via the circulatory system. If the air we’re breathing is toxic, that toxicity gets transferred to the rest of our bodies…

One of my favorite books is Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor (Last Christmas I gave seven copies out as gifts to friends and family, including Porter). In it, Nestor discusses how about 4 billion years ago, the Earth contained mostly carbon dioxide.

The plants that existed back then would consume the carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Eventually, this created the perfect environment for the oxygen-reliant creatures that roam the Earth today.

When we breathe in clean air, we are at lower risk for things like premature death and other serious health effects.

Air pollution stems primarily from the incomplete burning of fossil fuels to heat our homes, fuel our cars, and generate electricity.

It turns out, 90% of the global population is exposed to toxic outdoor air each year. This accounts for 8.8 million premature deaths annually.

So how do we protect ourselves from polluted, toxic air?

No. 1: Live somewhere with good air quality.

The top five places with the best air quality are…

  • Burlington-South Burlington-Barre, Vermont
  • Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Elmira-Corning, New York
  • Urban Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Wilmington, North Carolina

Existing in clean air spaces like these is going to lead to healthier experiences over your lifetime. If you’re lucky enough to live in one of these areas, make the most of it by sucking in all of that fresh, clean outdoor air.

No. 2: Check the air quality before spending time outdoors.

The website Airnow.gov provides air quality levels for your zip code. This is a great resource to help you plan healthier outdoor adventures.

You can also find Air Quality Index (AQI) information on your local news and radio stations. Plan to stay indoors when the air quality is bad… or even when it’s questionable.

I love using the weather.com app on my phone for this as well. In fact, during the fires near my winery, I used it to check the AQI scores to make sure I could escape if I needed to.

No. 3: Change the air filters in your car and home regularly.

Replacing the air filters in your car and in your home’s air handling unit is an easy way to keep the air you breathe nice and clean.

New filters should be installed once a year in the car (or about every 12,000 miles) and every three months in the home.

No. 4: Avoid walking and exercising near heavy-traffic areas.

I’ll always remember the first run I took in London when I worked there for Goldman Sachs. I was training for the NYC Marathon and freaked out when I blew my nose post-run and black particles from diesel exhaust filled my Kleenex – yes, gross!

The exhaust that cars, trucks, and buses leave behind can be harmful for your lungs. If you need proof, just go to a city and look at the trees. In polluted areas, the trees’ bark changes to a blackish-brown color. That’s not at all healthy for them… or for your delicate lung tissue.

Instead, find a local park or patch of woods for your outdoor excursions. The woods offer the purest form of air, because the trees act like gigantic air filters. They remove particle pollutants like soot, pollen, dust, acids, toxic hydrocarbons, and nitrogen compounds.

The trees also add fragrant vaporous substances – phytoncides – into the air. Studies show that phytoncides significantly increase immune system function by increasing the activity of natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are a type of white blood cell that can rid the body of tumors and cancer cells.

No. 5: Use less energy in your home and avoid burning wood or trash.

Generating electricity and burning things create pollution. If you’re planning to enjoy your fireplace on a cold evening, make sure it and your chimney are both clean and well-ventilated so the particulate matter produced goes outside.

No. 6: Wear a mask outdoors.

If the air quality is bad or you plan on walking around an area with high vehicle traffic, you can give yourself an extra layer of protection by wearing a mask.

I’m sure you have at least one mask lying around on the heels of this COVID-19 pandemic. Popping it on before a walk outside will help to filter out some of the toxicity in the air before it reaches your lungs.

I did this for weeks during the fires of 2017, 2018, and 2020 in wine country. It helped me stay outside for much longer than I would have been able to otherwise.

No. 7: Be careful what time of day you go for a walk.

Particulate matter tends to be at its lowest around 4 p.m… it usually settles throughout the day and can be at its worst in the morning. So if you schedule your daily walk for the evening, you can skip out on breathing in some of this toxic air.

The problem is that ground-level ozone from the day’s activities is highest around that time. So do what I do… and if the AQI is in the green, walk in the mornings when ozone is lowest.

No. 8: Get air-purifying plants in your home.

Aloe vera, ivy, ferns, lilies, daisies, dragon trees, and spider plants are great choices to help naturally purify the air inside your home.

If you have pets, be sure to check if these plants are toxic before stocking up… or place them in a spot where your pet won’t be able to reach them.

No. 9: Ventilate your bathrooms and kitchen.

Exhaust fans help to recirculate the air inside your home. This can help rid your home of harmful particles in the air from cooking or even cleaning.

So take care to consider the quality of your air. It could help prolong your life.

What We’re Interneting…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
August 24, 2021