A balanced decision regarding “go/no go” should prompt one to evaluate the breakeven point between deconditioning due to enforced inactivity from staying indoors for filtered air, versus outdoor aerobic activity benefits in air quality that is less than ideal. Though beyond the scope of this article, research has found, at least in the low quality city air situations studied, the use of cycling or walking is more healthful than driving an automobile up to a certain breakeven point; see this study
in the journal Preventive Medicine.
“What does the science say,” don’t we all find ourselves asking often in 2020? To decide whether the proposed run would be fulfilling or would be folly, I then studied the original research article in Wilderness & Environmental Medicine, Wagner and Brandley’s “Exercise in Thermal Inversions: PM2.5 Air Pollution Effects on Pulmonary Function and Aerobic Performance
.” Within the conclusion section, they stated that “Young, healthy adults felt more respiratory distress running a 3200 m time trial on a day with elevated PM2.5 compared to a low PM2.5 day. However, there were no significant differences in running time” or in other tests of pulmonary function and exercise performance, which tests they deemed to be too imprecise to detect impact “by acute exposures of moderate amounts of PM2.5.”
So, did the air quality allow for a mountain run that August day, or not?
As it turned out, because our targeted morning’s sunrise AQI showed merely Yellow/Moderate for our valley, combined with a clean breeze from the direction where no fires existed, led to us deciding to go up the mountain. After having run up it, each of us was heading down from it before noon, as per smart travel strategies above timberline, to avoid lightning risks.
Although our clinical “study” had just n=2, neither runner subjectively experienced any ill effects after completing our run that day.
On one further practical point, exceedingly worse air quality is affecting millions of people in these recent few weeks, many of whose homes contain neither central air conditioning with filtration, nor costly HEPA filtration units. From a USFS website that is listed as still “under construction,” print-ready handouts are now accessible, as well as a Montana state link for easily assembling a very efficient DIY home air filter
for about $40 cost in materials.
The US Bureau of Land Management employs about 3,000 wildland firefighters each year, and the US Forest Service another 10,000. Praise and thanks go to the many thousands of men and women working on our fire crews, and those in every country. In a decidedly somber tone, empathy and aid need to go to all those who are currently losing so much to these wildfires, especially in that we are not yet at the midpoint of a typical California fire season.