In shocking and devastating news, approximately 7 million people died globally in 2012 because of air pollution, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO). That figure reflects the number of deaths caused by both indoor and outdoor air pollution.
For this report, WHO researchers gathered data regarding household air pollution (like the gas from a stove indoors) and ambient air pollution (such as fumes from a car exhaust pipe outside) from every continent. Nearly one in eight total global deaths was due to air pollution exposure. Surprisingly, indoor air pollution was the biggest threat, accounting for 4.3 million deaths globally. One major factor contributing to indoor air pollution is improper air circulation in homes, which may be due to poor ventilation and faulty air filters. That's especially damaging in homes with outdated modes of cooking, like open-flame stoves and smoky indoor ovens. Countries in Southeast Asia (2,275,000 deaths) and low- and middle-income regions in the Western Pacific (2,817,000 deaths) saw the greatest number of mortalities from both types of air pollution. And America saw about 227,000 air pollution-related deaths in total.
Many sources of air pollutantsÃ¢â‚¬”automobiles, burning wood, cigarette smokeÃ¢â‚¬”produce harmful chemicals like nitrogen dioxide, which have been associated with cardiovascular diseases and certain cancers, says Neil Schachter, M.D., director of the respiratory care department at Mount Sinai Hospital. This new report further supports these links as heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer were associated with both indoor and outdoor pollution-related deaths.
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Unfortunately, it's impossible to avoid existing air pollution entirely. That said, you can take measures to reduce your exposure to it. To tidy up your air quality indoors, invest in an air purifier, which filters out harmful particles lurking in the atmosphere. Bamboo plants are also natural air filters that require little maintenance, says Schachter. If neither of those are options, crack a window or use a fan to help circulate the air around you (especially in damp rooms like your bathroom, when cooking with gas, or when using an indoor fireplace), says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president of the American Lung Association (ALA).
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Before you head outside, check the air quality report for your area through online weather forecasts sites (Weather.com has a tool that let's you check the air quality and principle pollutants in your area), which rank how good (or bad) the air in your region is daily. This is especially important if you like to exercise outside, because the harder you push yourself, the more air you need to take in, and the more harmful pollutants you could be exposed to. If the air quality forecast looks bleak, stick to an indoor gym instead. And even if you aren't working out, you might want to spend the majority of your time indoors on days like that.
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