Air Pollution & Heart Health

Man taking a deep breath of fresh air with his eyes closed and head tilted back, basking in the golden morning light.
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For many, there’s no better way to raise your spirits than to go outside and get some fresh air. But, what happens if that air isn’t so fresh? According to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” 2020 report, about 45.8% of Americans live in counties with unhealthy air quality, which can contribute to a myriad of health issues. In this blog, we’re exploring what air pollution is, how it can affect your overall and heart health, and how you can minimize your exposure to poor air quality.

What Is Air Pollution?

Air pollution refers to a mixture of gases, solid particles (including dust, pollen, chemicals from factories, and mold spores), or liquid droplets suspended in the air.1 Most air pollution comes from energy use, such as burning fossil fuels, which is why large cities are more likely to have higher rates of air pollution.2 However, natural occurrences, like wildfires, volcanoes, and the decomposition process, can also release hazardous substances into the air.

How Does Air Pollution Affect Your Health?

Breathing polluted air can have severe effects on your physical health. Even short-term exposure has been linked to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), asthma, coughing, wheezing, respiratory disease, and higher rates of hospitalization. Long-term exposure has been linked to chronic asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, arrhythmias, and heart failure.3 4 5 In addition, exposure to air pollution in infancy could contribute to negative health outcomes, such as respiratory, mental, perinatal, and cardiovascular disorders, infant mortality, or chronic diseases that present in adulthood.6

How Does Air Pollution Affect Your Heart?

In addition to the studies above, a decade-long study has linked air pollution to atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of plaque in the artery. This can restrict blood flow to your heart and blood vessels, which increases the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events.7 In addition, the American Heart Association reports that pollution may have an inflammatory effect on the heart, which can cause a variety of chronic heart-health issues.5 Even short-term exposure can increase the risk of heart failure, stroke, heart attack, and arrhythmias for elderly individuals or those with pre-existing conditions.

How To Minimize Exposure To Air Pollution

To monitor air pollution in your area and minimize your exposure, follow these tips:

  • Check daily air pollution forecasts online using a site like or a mobile app like AirVisual
  • Exercise inside when pollution levels are high
  • Limit the amount of time you and your family spend outside on days when air quality is poor
  • Avoid exercising near high-traffic areas, even when air quality forecasts are green

In addition, talk with your doctor about your concerns. Your doctor will be able to give you more targeted advice for protecting your health and minimizing risk, based on your individual health profile and location.


4 Eze IC, Schaffner E, Fischer E, Schikowski T, Adam M, Imboden M, et al. . Long- term air pollution exposure and diabetes in a population-based Swiss cohort. Environ Int. (2014) 70:95–105. 10.1016/j.envint.2014.05.01
6 Kelishadi R, Poursafa P. Air pollution and non-respiratory health hazards for children. Arch Med Sci. (2010) 6:483–95. 10.5114/aoms.2010.14458

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