Long run or short run?
Indoors or outdoors?
Mask or no mask?
Run or walk?
Downtown or countryside?
Questions of all hues from enthusiastic cyclists, runners and walkers have been doing the rounds over the last 3 weeks, as Diwali normally marks the start of the peak running, and cycling season.
Today Gurgaon had an air quality index of 177-unhealthy, RK Puram 798-hazardous, Faridabad 309-hazardous, Noida 550-hazardous and ITO 223-unhealthy. Even a level of 135 at Palam is categorised as unhealthy for sensitive groups. As a contrast AQI of 54 at Rohtak was categorised as moderate and Nashik at 28 was good.
Lucknow at 523, Agra at 352, Jaipur at 165, Chandigarh at 148, and Patna at 318 round off the picture for the major urban monitoring centres across N India.
Central India is not a pretty picture either with a band of RED right through the urban agglomerations from West to East
But these levels are 50% better than a week earlier, in most places. Runners said ”things are much better than earlier, lets do a short fast run’. Or let’s wear a mask.
It’ll be OK.
But is it?
We need to know a few things
1- Understand the implications of each level of air quality
2- Realise that this is not a normal situation. Schools have been closed by the Government, doctors have advised people not to walk outdoors unless absolutely essential. UNICEH and WHO are very concerned. Delhi has been crowned the most polluted city in the world.
3- Air quality levels improved from levels of 1000 to 400/500 over the last week, much like a fire which reduces in temperature from 2000 Celsius to 500 Celsius. But it will burn you just the same.
4- Masks - N95 and N99 (i.e. normally filtering 95% and 99% of PM 2.5 (i.e. particulate matter of 2.5 microns) with a valve are good for walking, when the air quality levels are moderate or at a stretch, marginally unhealthy at worst. They would be progressively less efficient at higher levels of AQI
5- These respirator ‘dust’ masks are made for miners, construction workers and those in other industries where the environment has fine particulate matter.
6- There are NO respirator masks made for running
7- These masks are not and cannot be airtight like diving masks and there will be ingestion of some unfiltered air, no matter what; just like we do not use a splash proof watch, no matter how expensive, under water
8-While running over a 2-3 hour period, the heavy and quick air intake, reaches the deepest recesses of the lungs, and with more severe AQI, the fine 2.5 micron particles, do too.
9- In the unhealthy AQI range and beyond, children should not be outdoors, even with a mask, as their lungs are even more susceptible to harm.
10- AQI levels are generally lower during the warmer part of the day
So what can we do?
· Exercise indoors and keep doors and windows closed.
· Open the windows with the fan on, if and when the sun comes out and the air clearer, during the later part of the day.
· Run on a treadmill
· Do indoor freehand exercises
· Focus on stretching and yoga
· Check if the AQI in the mid /latter part of the day is OK and squeeze in a short outdoor run where possible
· Drive out to the outskirts of your town where the air is fresher and run / cycle there
Meanwhile work towards photographing and reporting any burning of waste, polluting vehicles, big exposed dusty patches and muddy construction sites, while you try and reduce travel and start carpooling where possible.
See if there are some activities like adopting dusty areas and grassing and maintaining them, operationalising Dr MS Swaminathan’s ideas on converting crop stubble into animal feed, and other simple but disruptive actions under our company CSR activities to make our environment better and breathable. Those of us in the media can spread the good positive stories, those of us in the bureaucracy can work towards enabling citizen groups, individuals and companies doing good, or wanting to do good.
Spread the word to other you know who are active, to be watchful and take care of themselves and as Trump may say - Let’s make the air around my country great again!!