Air Quality Linked to Longevity

Jun 8, 2009 by

Air Quality Linked to Longevity

When we make lifestyle changes to try and improve our health, we often focus a lot on what we eat and what we drink. Indeed, the quality and purity of our food and water play a great role in our state of health.

But there’s one thing we often overlook – and that’s the air we breathe. Without oxygen, we die within minutes, if not seconds. As the following article suggests, cleaner air can translate to longer lives.

Cleaner Air has Improved Life Expectancy across United States

by Reuben Chow

Oxygen is the single most important nutrient for our survival and wellbeing. While a healthy human being can go for weeks or even months without food, or last several days without water, cut off his or her air supply, and the person is unlikely to make it past a few minutes, if not seconds. It is then sometimes a wonder why more attention is not given to clean air as an important element for optimal health. Clean air indeed plays a great part in promoting good health and longevity, as revealed by a recent study conducted at Brigham Young University and Harvard School of Public Health. It had found that the lower the levels of particulate air pollution, the better life expectancy becomes.

Details of Study

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, had looked at changes in air pollution from about 1980 to about 2000 as well as the life expectancies of residents in 51 United States cities during that period. Other influencing factors, such as income changes, education levels, migration, smoking trends and population demographics were accounted for using advanced statistical models.

“Life expectancy is the single most comprehensive summary of how people’s longevity is affected by factors like air pollution that cause early death. We were able to use routine mortality statistics to track longevity in all cities over a long period of time and analyze how it has been influenced by changes in air pollution,” said Majid Ezzati, an associate professor of international health at Harvard School of Public Health, who was a member of the study team.

Findings of Study

According to environmental epidemiologist Joel Schwartz from the Harvard School of Public Health, who was not part of the study team, it is a well-known fact that particulate air pollution has an adverse impact on life expectancy. But he said that decision makers in the government would really want to know “[i]f I spend the money to reduce pollution, what really happens?”

That is where this study helps a great deal. It not only showed a positive correlation between clean air and longer life, it managed to provide a quantifiable estimation of the association, too. Its findings revealed that the average life expectancy across the 51 cities rose by 2.72 years over the two-decade period of the study, and about 5 months of this increase, or about 15%, can be attributed to decreased air pollution.

Further, in cities which had started out being the most polluted, for example Buffalo and Pittsburgh, the average improvement to life expectancy stretched up to about 10 months. But there was good news for the “cleaner” cities too – even these cities experienced life expectancy gains with further reduction in air pollution.

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