Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Rebecca Guetig

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Be Aware of Your Air – 4 Basics of Understanding Air Quality

GettyImages-1291085789Taking advantage of the benefits nature has to offer, I step outside and take a deep breath of fresh air to begin my walk. Big inhale… slow exhale, “ahhhhh…so relax…” sudden coughing interrupts… “hmm the air seems a little thick today. Not quite the relaxing deep breath I was hoping for,” I shrug it off and continue on my way. But should I simply just dismiss it? The answer is, I don’t know until I check the condition of the air quality.

Recently, here at the senior living community, we’ve started weekly walks through the beautiful campus while the weather is nice. A recent warning about air quality had me questioning why I wasn’t monitoring this regularly. If I’ve been shrugging this off, how many others are doing the same and endangering their health? So, I decided I wanted to feature the air quality condition for the community walks, but a little digging was required to get caught up to speed on the subject. Here are 4 basics to help us understand air quality.

Where can the current air quality level be found? Most weather apps will provide air quality status, including warnings. Alerts include a brief description of the condition, as well as populations who should be cautious and activities to be reconsidered. More in-depth information can be found on resources such as AirNow.gov and epa.gov. Here you can learn about everything from air quality basics to trends to global readings to activity guides.

What exactly does the Air Quality Index measure? The AQI measures 5 major air pollutants: ground level ozone, particle pollution (including PM10 and PM2.5), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Healthy levels have been determined by US Environmental Protection Agency.

What is PM? PM stands for particulate matter in both solid and liquid forms. Some PM can be seen with the naked eye, like smoke, dust, and smog, while others require a microscope. Both forms are dangerous when inhaled. PM10 substances are 10 micrometers or smaller in diameter. PM2.5 are 2.5 micrometers and smaller. EPA puts it into perspective by comparing a human hair at 70 micrometers - that’s 30 times larger! When inhaled, these particles can stick deep into the lungs or even enter the blood stream, causing serious health concerns. PM originates from things like construction sites, fires, fields, power plants, and automobiles.

What AQI level is considered safe for outdoor activity? AQI rates air pollution levels on a scale from 0 – 500, associated with different colors to reflect if the conditions of the air are safe for everyone, some or no one. The basic AQI from Air Now defines the ratings as shown below:

  • Green (0-50) means the air quality is good and pollution levels are not threatening.
  • Yellow (51-100) means the condition of the air is moderate, but those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution could be at risk.
  • Orange (101 – 150) means the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, including those with heart disease and lung conditions. Activity should me limited for sensitive groups.
  • Red (151 – 200) means the air quality is unhealthy, causing possible health effects for some of the general public and more serious effects to sensitive groups.
  • Purple (201 – 300) means the air quality is very unhealthy and poses a health alert for everyone.
  • Maroon (301 – 150) means the air quality is hazardous and initiates a health warning of emergency conditions in which everyone is more likely to be affected.

Next Step: minimizing air pollution! How are you intentional in improving the air quality?

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Topics: senior wellness employee wellness air quality