Three Ways to Breathe Easier This Year

We were surrounded by smoke and fire.

I was recently in Calistoga, California, checking in on my wine and catching up with my friends and fellow winemakers. I dined with my friends, Brenda and Chris Lynch (of Mutt Lynch winery), and enjoyed some delicious food, wine, and conversation. But during our meals, wildfires burned all around us.

I was in between two big evacuation areas from the LNU Lightning Complex fire. LNU gets its name from the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit of the California Fire Department. So far, the fire has consumed more than 350,000 acres. It started as major lightning storms struck dry brush around the Bay area.

A view of the fire about two miles from the vineyard 

It's hard to ignore the raging wildfire problem in California. Right now, there are more than 24 major wildfires currently burning up Northern California... and 47 across the entire state.

Homes have burned, folks have evacuated, and with more lightning strikes in the forecast, I know it'll get worse before it gets better.

In fact, I just left because the air quality was so bad. The smokiness and haze were unbearable, so I escaped to Southern California to visit my brother and his family while the smoke clears.

Wildfires get a lot of attention for the amount of property damage they cause. But more worrying to me is the fine particle matter these fires put into the air. These small particles wreak havoc on sensitive lungs. And when the air quality is bad enough, like this week, the conditions are dangerous for even the healthiest lungs. My friends who live near the 2017 Tubbs Fire talked of burning lungs for six weeks after the fire.

That's why today is a good time to remind folks of the dangers of air pollution...

Air pollution happens when tiny bits of debris – nanoparticles – make their way into the air we breathe. This debris comes from things like car exhaust or wood burning.

We also know exactly how air pollution gets into our blood and how long it sticks around.

A 2017 study from the University of Edinburgh showed how this happens by using gold nanoparticles. The researchers had participants inhale air containing inert gold dust the same size as typical nanoparticles. The gold, which is easy to trace, appeared in the blood within 24 hours. Worse, the gold stayed in their blood for about three months.

Air pollution is one of the silent killers of our era, as these nanoparticles cause inflammation throughout the body.

We've known for years that air pollution increases risks for problems like stroke, lung disease, and respiratory infections. We also wrote in 2018 that air pollution increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes.

A special report from the Annals of Global Health reviewed air pollution across the world. Take a look at the list of health conditions triggered by exposure to air pollution:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Cancer
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Eczema
  • Heart attack
  • Pneumonia
  • Stroke

In fact, about 250,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year result from air pollution. And some researchers say we're underestimating that death toll.

I've urged my readers for years to pay attention to clean air. It's on my list of top ways to improve your health every year in Retirement Millionaire. (You can read the 2020 list here.)

With the lockdowns in place earlier this year, we saw a drop in air pollution. Fewer cars on the road meant cleaner air. But that won't last. And given my current situation here in California, I'm reminded of how essential breathing good air is. Even if you aren't dealing with wildfires, there are steps you should take to limit your exposure to all air pollution...

1. Check your air-quality forecast for the day. The National Weather Service allows you to search by city and state for your local report. You can find that here. You can also turn on air-quality notifications on your smartphone. My researcher likes the app from IQAir called AirVisual. It gives her notifications during the day along with weather and a view of air-quality projections for the rest of the week.

I use the Weather Channel to check in on my air quality for the day. The lower the number, the better the air quality. Yesterday morning, the reading in Calistoga was 264 out of 300. Scientific air quality measures go up to 500, but anything from 300 to 500 is hazardous. So to get a reading that high puts us right in the high danger category. To put that in perspective, the air quality yesterday in India's Ghaziabad (the city with the worst air pollution in 2019) was just 62. It's a good thing I could stay inside with tasty eats and a few bottles of wine.

2. Use an air filter. I've said before that since we spend about a third of our lives in our bedroom, do what I do and keep an air purifier by your bed, running it while you sleep. I've long said that this is the best way to get clean air and recharge overnight.

But with so many of us staying indoors due to the pandemic, I think I should change that to run an air filter all day – or at the very least, whenever you're in the house. That way, you're getting as much clean air as possible.

Health & Wealth Bulletin managing editor Laura Bente is a fan of the Dyson Pure Cool Air Purifier.

This fan/air purifier combination is quieter than a typical fan, shows you how many pollutants are in the air, and can adjust its settings to keep them at an acceptable level.

3. Plan your route. If you want to go for a walk, opt for a quieter, less polluted area like a park instead of walking around a few city blocks. Remember, exercise is vital to our health, as is the vitamin D you get from time in the sun. So it will likely outweigh any problems of exposure – just keep your workout short. Don't use this as an excuse to stay indoors.

And if you're in an area where there's smoke from a wildfire, stay inside.

We already know to take charge of our health by getting enough sleep, moving during the day, and eating whole foods. Including air pollution guidance in your daily routine is simply the next step toward a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle. Following these three simple tips will reduce your exposure, and therefore lower your risk for disease.

If you've dealt with wildfires before, you know how hazardous the air quality can become. We want to hear tips you've used to limit your exposure to air pollution... [email protected].

What We're Reading...

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

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
August 25, 2020