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Exposure to air pollution is linked to increase in sedentary behaviour: Study

A new study shows that current levels of air pollution are associated with an annual increase of up to 22 minutes of sedentary time each day

The findings suggested that high levels of exposure to nitrogen dioxide were associated with up to 22 minutes per day of increased sedentary time per year.(Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 10.01.2024  |  04:30 PM IST

One of the most pressing environmental concerns in India is air pollution. New Delhi is the world's most polluted city, according to the report published by Swiss group IQAir in November 2023. Long-term exposure to air pollution comes with several health risks including dementia risk and lower sleep quality. Now, a new study shows that it can also increase people’s sedentary behaviour.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Leicester, shows that current levels of air pollution are associated with an annual increase of up to 22 minutes of sedentary time each day. According to the researchers this is the first study of its kind to closely examine the association between the levels of background pollution people are regularly exposed to in the United Kingdom and their levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

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Sedentary behaviour refers to time spent lying, sitting, or standing still, the university’s press statement explained. Research has shown that higher levels of sedentary behaviour can lead to health issues such as heart disease and several types of cancer.

In 2019 the World Health Organization estimated that 99% of the global population breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. Such levels of air pollution may affect people’s ability to exercise, or the motivation and enjoyment related to it. It could also be considered a risk factor as it can make people want to spend time sitting indoors and discourage active time outdoors, which can increase the risk of chronic diseases, the statement elaborated.

In the study, the researchers examined the relationships between long-term particulate matter with diameter less than or equal to 2.5 μm (micrometres), 10 μm, and nitrogen dioxide and annual change in sedentary time and physical activity. The findings were published in the Journal of Public Health.

“An increase of 1 μgm−3 in the average concentration of atmospheric nitrogen dioxide was associated with an increase in sedentary time of 1.52 minutes per day per year in the most conservative model," study author Johnathan Godney said in the statement. Furthermore, the findings suggested that high levels of exposure to nitrogen dioxide were associated with up to 22 minutes per day of increased sedentary time per year.

Previous studies have also shown that air pollution comes with various health risks. For instance, a February 2023 study, published in JAMA Network Open showed that long-term exposure to elevated levels of air pollution increases the risk of late-onset depression among the elderly. In August 2023, the University of Chicago's Energy Policy Institute (EPIC) in its annual Air Quality Life Index report stated that particulate pollution in India takes about 5.3 years off the life of the average Indian.

Also read: Air pollution: 4 gadgets, apps to help you track the AQI and breathe better