While physical activity is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle, air pollution and exercise can be a harmful combination. This is especially true if you have asthma, diabetes, and heart or lung conditions. Young children, older people, and people who work or exercise outdoors can be especially susceptible to the effects of outdoor air pollution. Street level suspended particulates and toxic emissions in Kathmandu are several times higher than the WHO’s safe threshold.
Lately, many patients have been coming to my physiotherapy clinic complaining of pain in the elbow joint, neck, knee, back, tendinitis and nerve impinchment. Most are bicycle enthusiasts who took up the sport to improve their health.
Indeed, bicycling can have many health benefits: increasing cardiovascular fitness, improving muscle strength and flexibility, greater joint mobility, reducing stress, better posture and coordination, and decreased body fat levels.
We need to understand the interface between the human musculoskeletal system and the mechanical laws of the bicycle to use it properly. The idea is to prevent common injuries while using bicycles for commuting, mountain biking, or in triathalons and extreme racing.
Cycling incorporates all main leg muscle groups during various phases of pedaling. This movement is ideal for strengthening muscles, but overuse may cause repetitive stress injury and pain . A physiotherapist can pinpoint the problem and locate any strength deficits.
Health problems increase while exercising in polluted areas. During increased physical activity you usually inhale more air and breathe it more deeply into your lungs.
The air also passes through the mouth, bypassing the nasal passages which normally filter airborne particles. What is not clear with air pollution and exercise is which types of air pollution are most harmful over time. It is prudent to avoid cycling along Kathmandu’s main roads, especially in the mornings and evenings.
However, research has shown that the long-term benefits of regular exercise outweigh the risks associated with exposure to air pollution.
Amir Neupane is an evidence based physio-practitioner, and manages Aashas Health Care in Jawalakhel.
Read Also: No city for cyclists, Sewa Bhattarai
Monitor air pollution. Consult Nepali Times on mobile for live air pollution levels in Kathmandu to check if it is safe.
Timing workouts. Avoid outdoor physical activity and reduce exercising when pollution levels are highest in mornings and evenings, or rush hours.
Avoid high-pollution areas. Pollution levels are highest within 400m of busy roads. Take bike up to ridge (see accompanying article)
Exercise indoors. Exercise indoors when air quality is bad. Check out a local gym or run laps on an indoor track.
Read Also: Riding above the haze, Tyler Mcmahon
Your bike must be adjusted to suit your body size and shape so you are more relaxed and can ride longer distances with less effort. However much you enjoy bicycling, don’t overdo it. If you get pains, visit a physiotherapist with a special interest in bike setup or a cycling store professional.
Pick your bike: Do you want a bicycle to commute or for trail biking? Pick the right type and size.
Posture: Avoid excessive movement of the upper body. Maintain neutral spine by bending forward at the hips. Do not hunch, do not sway.
Reach: Have a comfortable reach with the handlebar, not too far away and not too near. Your arms should be 90 degrees to your torso.
Pedal: The ball of your foot should be centred over the pedal axle.
Saddle: Saddle should not be tilted and its height should be adjusted so that when the pedals are horizontal your knee is directly over the spindle.