Before taking off on a run or hopping on your bike, you probably check the weather report. Maybe you look up the forecast online, or perhaps you just stick your head out the door to gauge the temperature. Or you may ignore the weather report completely, knowing your headed out for run whether its hot, cold, rainy, or dry.

But there’s one weather report you really should be checking before heading outdoors for a workout, and it’s pretty likely you’re not already doing it.

The Air Quality Index.

That’s the one where they say whether it’s a “code orange” or “code yellow”- and they’re not talking about national security. They’re talking about the quality of the air we breathe.

air quality index chart

Air quality looks at two important factors:

1. Ground level ozone


2. Particle pollution


Ground-level ozone forms when pollutants from things like cars and power plants combine with the hot sunlight. It causes a substance that irritates the lungs, throat, and eyes. It can cause shortness of breath and aggravate asthma.

ground level ozone equation

Particle pollution is literally referring to particles in the air- small solids and liquids that get suspended in the air and can get deep into our lungs. It can also irritate the lungs and asthma, as well as cause arrhythmias and heart attacks. Particle pollution is especially high when there’s a forest fire, residential wood or trash burning, or weather that keeps pollution close to the ground.

sources of particle pollution

Repeated damage from air pollution can cause permanent reduced lung function.

particle pollution lung effect

Most of the time when you hear about air quality, you hear it in terms of whether “sensitive people” should go outside or not. So why is this the one weather report you need to pay attention to? It’s highly likely you fall into the sensitive category. In fact, if you exercise outdoors at all, you certainly do.

When you exercise,  you breathe deeper and faster, pulling more and more of that potentially polluted air straight into your lungs.

particle pollution

So what do you do?

Try not to exercise outdoors when alerts are orange, red, or purple. If you’re extra sensitive, also avoid exercising when it’s yellow.

Take it easy if you are exercising outdoors- the more you exert yourself, the more air pollution you breathe in.

– Find out what time of day the air is best in your area and exercise then. In many places, that’s the morning.

– Hit the treadmill, stationary bike, or other indoor activity.

For more info, visit AirNow.

Do you pay attention to the air quality before exercising? Did you know being active puts you into the sensitive category along with children, older adults, and those with asthma and other lung or heart problems? It’s been orange all week in NC…