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DEEP BREATHS

Does moving somewhere with clean air improve your health?

a park in the middle of a city
Reuters/Lucas Jackson
Urban spaces can take a lesson from rural areas.
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

Published

Where industrialized humans live, air pollution follows. That’s bad news for your lungs, which, in exchanging the gasses necessary to keep us alive, encounter particles that can make the body function less well.

Though scientists know that chronic exposure to air pollution is toxic to several organ systems, the exact mechanism of how our bodies accrue damage over time is still unclear. Over the decades, scientists have pieced together epidemiological data to see how different levels of pollutants affect long-term health. But now, they want to fix it by finding ways to prevent and undo the damage. If they can more concretely define the relationship between air pollution and various health outcomes, they could drastically improve public health.

Early evidence suggests that at a population level, it is possible to reverse some of the damage caused by polluted air. “Clean air can help,” says Aruni Bhatnagar, the director of the Envirome Institute at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, who studies how the environment impacts public health. It’s just a matter of finding the most efficient ways for cities to do it.

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