London smog: 10 ways to limit your exposure to air pollution

This week we wrote about how in the UK we each lose the equivalent of six months of our lives to air pollution. But there are things you can do to limit your exposure and potentially claim back some of that valuable life.

1. Cross the street

Sometimes it’s hard to know which roads are more polluted, but the level of traffic is a fair indicator. Avoid “street canyons” with tall buildings at either side because bad air gets trapped and isn’t as easily blown away. Pollution also accumulates on the sheltered side of the street, a University of Leeds study found. Try not to walk behind smokers too, for obvious reasons.

2. Plant trees outside your house

Research shows planting trees outside your house helps shield it from pollution. As well as helping the atmosphere by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen, trees absorb air pollution and, when planted outside your house, block some of the pollution. A test carried out by the BBC found trees reduced the level of particulate matter reaching homes by 50-60% over two weeks.

3. Stand back from the road

Even a distance of just a few feet can make a difference when it comes to how much pollution you breathe in. Walking on the other side of the pavement to the kerb and standing back from the road when you’re waiting to cross or waiting for the bus can have a beneficial effect, according to Dr Roy Colvile, a senior lecturer in air-quality management at Imperial College London, in the Guardian. This is particularly worth remembering when going out with children, as they’re closer to car exhaust level and tend to breathe deeper than adults.

4. Check your area’s pollution levels

One way of ensuring you avoid the worst places is by checking howpollutedismyroad.org.uk, which can be a real eye-opener. Use the map to plan less polluted routes to work.

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5. Ventilate your home

Indoor air pollution can be as harmful as outdoor pollution – partly because most of us spend so much time indoors. Modern homes can be quite airtight which means if pollution gets inside, it doesn’t escape very easily. Open windows when you can to help this – particularly windows that face away from roads.

6. Run first thing in the morning

If you like to run or jog in London, the best time to go is generally first thing in the morning, before the day’s traffic affects air quality. Also choose green spaces where you can, as they usually have better air quality. Make sure you avoid outdoor exercise when pollution levels are high (see number 9). Research shows poor quality air can have an effect on your physical performance and a study by Lancaster University found joggers inhale more pollution than those walking the same distance.

7. Set your car fan on recirculate in traffic

To avoid inhaling fumes from the car in front when stuck in traffic, set your fan on recirculate and keep windows closed. Traffic jams, understandably, can create concentrated areas of pollution that are best avoided and a US study found air quality inside cars can often be worse than outside. According to Asthma UK, two thirds of sufferers think traffic fumes make their symptoms worse.

8. Wear a cycle mask

One of the best ways to avoid breathing in too much pollution while on your bike is to use a cycle mask. Make sure you use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions and that it fits properly. Unfortunately, they don’t work well with beards and can make the wearer’s face quite warm.

9. Work from home

Check pollution levels (Kings College has a simple next day forecast, and Defra has a five day postcode search tool) before you go to work as if levels get particularly poor, you might be able to avoid peak times or opt to work from home. Not only would this help you stay away from harmful pollution but could save you money too. If you’re an employer, also consider giving your staff this extra flexibility.

10. Choose a different bus seat

Bus journeys can be stifling at the best of times – if you can’t smell body odour or urine, it’s usually that sickly diesel fume smell. There’s often a feeling that you’re breathing in more fumes than you should be on the bus, but there are things you can do to limit your exposure. Dr Colvile said if you set on the opposite side to the driver you’re less exposed and, as you’d imagine, upstairs is better on a double decker.

Tweet me your thoughts @robynvinter

Now read:

London’s air pollution problem: Investigating the smog that takes six months off your life

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