The air out there: Tips for avoiding pollution

A woman on an elliptical machine with other gym patrons in the background.

May 5, 2022—There's nothing like getting out in the fresh air. But when air quality is bad, it's best to stay indoors. That's because bad air quality can affect your health, both now and in the future.

Air pollution can come from manmade sources, like car exhaust and factories. It can come from natural sources, like wildfires, too.

Air pollution affects everyone, but according to the American Lung Association (ALA), people of color and people with lower incomes are at higher risk. So are children and older adults. And the risks are higher for people who:

  • Have cardiovascular disease.
  • Have diabetes.
  • Have lung conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Are obese.
  • Smoke (or smoked in the past).

What are the short-term effects?

Short-term spikes in particle pollution can have serious effects—including an increase in premature deaths. According to the ALA, research shows that even short increases in air pollution have been linked to rises in:

  • Asthma attacks.
  • Heart attacks.
  • Hospital admissions for people with COPD.
  • Infant mortality.
  • Respiratory infections.
  • Strokes.

What are the long-term effects?

Outdoor air pollution can lead to health problems over time. The ALA and other experts report that air pollution can raise the risk of:

  • Asthma.
  • COPD.
  • Certain cancers.
  • Diabetes.
  • Dementia.
  • Fertility problems.

How can I protect myself?

We all have to breathe. But you can take steps to keep yourself safe when you are outdoors. For example, car exhaust is one source of air pollution. So try not to exercise next to busy roads.

One important step is to know the air quality in your area. You can check the air quality near you at That can let you know when it is time to take special care.

When air quality is not safe for your health:

  • Stay indoors as much as you can.
  • Close windows and use air filters.
  • Don't smoke.

What about the great indoors?

Outdoor air isn't the only air pollution threat. Learn more about how to protect yourself from indoor air pollution.

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