Diwali special: Simple strategies to survive pollution in your city
Since we can’t stop breathing or tide over bad air days sitting cocooned in air-purified homes waiting for the government to come up with yet another hare-brained idea to control air pollution (Giant air-purifiers at traffic intersections? Seriously?), we must adopt these simple strategies to cope.
As pollution peaks across India in winter, start your day by going online to check pollution levels in your neighbourhood and city before stepping out.
Several government and independent sites, including the Hindustan Times’ Air Quality Index, give round-the-clock colour-coded information on fluctuating air pollution levels that can help you choose when and where to step out to lower exposure to air toxins.
Avoid non-essential travel during peak hours and use public transport a far as possible. Even in neighbourhoods with low to moderate pollution, vehicular exhaust pushes up air pollution levels up to one km on either side of the road during peak hours.
Drive with your windows rolled up or cover your mouth and nostrils with a N95 respirator, which filters out at least 95% of fine airborne particles. Fine pollutants pass through a normal surgical mask and cloth, but in the absence of a N95, use any form of protection to cover your nose and mouth.
Don’t exercise (walk, cycle or run) or play outdoors when pollution levels are high, which is usually in the morning. The health benefits of exercising outweigh the harzards of pollution only if you choose to exercise when the air quality index reading is lower than 160 microgram/m3, which is the tipping point after which any time spent exercising does more damage than good to your health. A study published in the journal Preventive Medicine last year In an average polluted city (44 microgram/m3 to 153 microgram/m3), physical exercise will remain beneficial for up to seven hours a day on a bicycle or walking for 16 hours. But in the most polluted cities such as Delhi, the tipping point when exercising began to hurt more than benefit started after 30 minutes of cycling a day and 90 minutes of walking.
If you live in a polluted neighbourhood, walk indoors in a shopping mall or head for a gym. Limit the time your child spends playing outdoors during hours when the air quality is poor and for at least three days after Diwali, which is roughly the time the bad air takes to dissipate.
Don’t go near burning crackers or burn the trash generated the day after Diwali. Copper, cadmium, sulphur, aluminium and barium, among others, are added to crackers to produce the vibrant colours and sparkle, and the particulate matter and gases such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur dioxide that hang low in the atmosphere for hours, stinging our eyes and choking lungs.
Breathing problems in people with asthma can aggravate suddenly, so keep an inhaler or nebuliser at hand. During this period, use prescription medicine, including steroids, to control your asthma. Sudden breathlessness and tightening of the chest should not be ignored. You must rush to a hospital emergency.
Foods that beat pollution
Foods that fight inflammation and boost immunity do their bit in keeping your airways from reacting to the air toxins. Garlic contains medicinal compounds such as allicin and sulfhydryl, which give it its pungent smell and also make it a powerful immune booster and antimicrobial that fights infections. Having fresh garlic or garlic supplements protects against infection.
Spring onion (scallion), which belongs to the garlic family, is also rich in organic sulfur compounds, as well as vitamin C, B vitamins, and trace minerals that fight infection and lower inflammation.
Air pollution lowers the body’s reserves of vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant found in vegetable oils, nuts, and green leafy vegetables that protect cells against the effects of free radicals, which are potentially damaging by-products of the body’s metabolism. Free radicals cause cell damage that raises risk of heart disease, cancers and ageing.
Vitamin C boosts resistance to infections, raises iron absorption and helps heal wounds. Amalaki (amla), guava, oranges, lemons, limes, green vegetables and melons are all rich sources of Vitamin C. One small alma contains more than 300 mg of vitamin C, compared to around 200 mg found in one guava, 70 mg in one orange, and 100 mg in one bell pepper. All bell peppers are high in vitamin C, but yellow pepper have the highest amount, followed by red.
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