The events of the first half of 2020 have naturally led to an increase in people’s time spent at home. In addition to kids being home from school, working from home, and general stay-at-home restrictions in most areas of the country as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people’s ability to exercise and stay fit has been tested. Gyms have generally been closed, and excessive time outdoors in public is not advisable given the continued transmission of the virus. This has resulted in many people choosing to work out at home – either with in-home fitness equipment or simply with aerobics, often utilizing online exercise tutorials through YouTube or other services.
Trying to stay healthy, especially in the midst of a pandemic, is a worthwhile and important thing. However, working out in the home – a home, moreover, that is seeing more time spent in it by more people than usual – can present some unique challenges and potential hazards. Specifically, in this article, we’re going to look at indoor air quality considerations when working out at home. We’ll tell you what you need to know and consider, how to monitor and improve indoor air quality, and how (and when) you should take steps to get professionals involved to ensure your continued safety when you work out at home.
Outdoor vs. Indoor Air Quality
First, let’s start with one of the positive results of the coronavirus problem: outdoor air pollution has significantly declined. With many businesses and industry shuttered, decreased use of cars and other forms of transportation, and a general decline in human polluting activities, many areas that are chronically suffering from poor air quality have seen a dramatic recovery. Indeed, Los Angeles has marked some of the best air quality in several decades during the pandemic. Of course, not being able to spend lots of time outside taking advantage of that air quality, and it coming at the expense of many people losing their jobs are not good things.
Still, the fact that outdoor air quality has improved would lead many to believe that indoor air quality should have improved as well, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. While outdoor air eventually translates into indoor air, and obviously fresher, cleaner air coming in is a good place to start, it’s not the only part of the equation.
Indoor air tends to re-circulate a lot in the home – especially when it gets warmer as it is right now and the air conditioners are running. As it circulates within the home, it can pick up and spread a whole host of particulates, many of which originate in the home rather than outside of it. Dust, allergens, animal dander, and other particles – many often the microscopic shedding of human skin and tissues – can easily be transferred via indoor air. The more people sharing the indoor space, the more hours per day, the more these kinds of contaminants can accumulate in the air.
Perhaps most concerning when it comes to indoor air quality, however, is the amount of mold and mold-released toxins (known as mycotoxins) that may be circulating. Though existing in both outdoor and indoor air, mold spores and their toxins increase exponentially when a home or office is suffering from a mold problem. Spores grow into colonies, spread, and release more and more toxins – often, with homeowners and residents being oblivious to the problem, until it reaches a tipping point. The amount of mold and fungal spores, and their consequent mycotoxins, that may be circulating in a home is one of the biggest contributors to poor indoor air quality and negative health outcomes for residents. Fortunately, it’s also something that can be addressed and improved.
Why Clean Air Matters
The quality of air – indoors and outdoors – plays a significant role in overall health, even absent a respiratory-based pandemic. Air quality has been well-correlated with respiratory health, with those subject to poor air quality more often developing breathing problems like asthma, allergies, or worse. Particulates in the air can become lodged in the lungs, decreasing lung function, and making it harder to breathe. They can also trigger allergic-like reactions in many people, with sneezing, watery eyes, sinus issues, and breathing problems.
Even in those who are otherwise healthy, and not demonstrating any symptoms of respiratory problems, poor air quality can take a toll. It can lead to shallower or less effective breathing as you go about your daily activities, resulting in increased fatigue and tiredness. It has further been postulated that some airborne toxins – especially those that may be released by wildfires, industrial plants, and similar operations – may even be linked to chronic illnesses, obesity, and a host of other health problems.
High levels of mold and mycotoxins in the air can further still exacerbate these kinds of respiratory and related illnesses and problems – especially in terms of indoor air, where their effects can be concentrated. Many people have heard of so-called black mold or toxic mold, and horror stories of allergic reactions and chronic illnesses – even deaths – associated with it. The primary vector for a mold infestation in the home to result in health problems is through breathed-in spores and mycotoxins – in other words, poor indoor air quality.
The bottom line is that clean, non-polluted air is the best way to maintain respiratory health and overall health, in the home and outside. Taking steps to improve air quality indoors – the only area you can directly control – can have profound consequences for better breathing, better sleep, more energy, and better health for you and your family. We’ll discuss some of those steps in more detail in subsequent sections of this article below.
Air Quality is MORE Important for Exercise
All of the reasons why air quality is important in general also apply to exercise. However, air quality is orders of magnitude more important for exercise than general activity. This is due to the dramatic increase in respiratory rate and air moving through the lungs during exercise as compared to at rest.
Ask anyone, and they will tell you they breathe harder during exercise than at rest. That’s basic, and one of the many reasons why exercise is an effective challenge for the body’s many systems. The average breathing rate when someone is at rest is around 12 to 15 breaths per minute. This increases by a factor of 2 to 2.5 with moderate to vigorous exercise, resulting in around 30 breaths per minute on average. Logically, one might think this approximate doubling in breathing rate means you are getting about double the air during exercise. However, it’s even more dramatic – because the breathing rate is not the only factor.
Tidal volume is the medical measurement for the amount of air breathed in with a normal breath. Breathing at rest tends to be fairly shallow – your body does not need a deep breath to supply sufficient oxygen when your systems are not being strained or challenged. As a result, breathing at rest tends to only have a tidal volume of around 500 mL (0.5 L) of air per breath, or 6 to 7.5 L of air through the lungs per minute.
By contrast, breaths taken during moderate exercise tend to have a tidal volume of around 6x that of rest – around 3000 mL (3.0 L) of air per breath! That translates into some 90 L of air per minute – or up to 15 times the amount of air used during the same period at rest!
|At Rest||During Exercise|
|Breathing Rate||12-15 breaths/minute||30 breaths/minute|
|Tidal Volume||0.5 L/breath||3.0 L/breath|
|Net Ventilation||6 – 7.5 L/minute||90 L/minute|
Therefore, exposure to potential lung irritants, allergens, mold, and toxins in the air is also increased significantly during exercise. That’s no reason not to exercise, however – but it is a reason to take steps and make efforts to insure that indoor air quality in your home is as good as it can be when working out and in general.
Common Indoor Air Quality Problems
There are numerous potential sources for indoor air pollutants and problems that can lead to poor indoor air quality. Some of the most common include:
- Outdoor air quality
- Tobacco smoke
- Use of combustion heaters (e.g. wood stoves/fireplace/etc.)
- Mold growth/spores/mycotoxins from a mold problem
- Fumes and volatiles from paint, plastics, flooring, etc.
- Asbestos particles from asbestos tiles or other products
- Particulates and fumes from cleaning products
- Issues with or poor filtration of heating and cooling equipment
- Poor ventilation in the home
Perhaps the most devastating sources of poor indoor air quality are asbestos and mold. Asbestos particles from ceiling or floor tiling, or other older building materials, can become permanently lodged in the lungs when inhaled. This can lead to asbestosis and mesothelioma, a form of cancer. Most people are aware of the dangers of asbestos, but may not know if their home contains asbestos building materials. Renovations, age/natural breakdown of materials, and other events can lead to a rapid increase in the release of asbestos particulates and their circulation in the air.
In terms of mold, increased humidity or moisture in the home create a breeding ground for mold spores to set up shop, as it were. Poor ventilation, average room temperatures (70 to 80 degrees), and high humidity are the perfect storm of factors to allow mold spores to call your home their home. Once they colonize, they can spread at a dramatic rate. Some species simply cause damage to home structures, and may give off an unpleasant mildew scent. Others release mycotoxins – toxic substances that can have serious health effects. Neither are desirable, and can dramatically impact indoor air quality.
Many mold problems don’t show visible signs in living areas, either, but can exist behind drywall, under floorboards, and in other, inaccessible areas – but still circulate spores and toxins in the air throughout the home.
Air Quality Solutions – Changing Habits
There are some obvious habit changes that can be made to help reduce the potential for indoor air quality problems. Not all sources of indoor air pollution are easy to address with habit or lifestyle changes, but some definitely are.
For a start, if you or someone in your home smokes, stop. If quitting is not possible or desirable, there are still steps you can take. At the very least, you should try to smoke outdoors, on a porch, or in a similarly well-ventilated space.
The same logic holds true for combustion heaters – consider switching to a cleaner-burning fuel source like natural gas, or going all-electric instead of using a wood heater or fireplace. While this isn’t necessarily as large a factor in indoor air pollution in southern California, it’s still worth keeping in mind.
In terms of pesticides, cleaning agents, painting, and other sources of fumes and particulates of the same type, it’s best to always use them in a well-ventilated area only. Allowing sufficient time for fumes to dissipate, utilizing a fan to exhaust air outside and bring in fresh air, and vacating the area for a period of time are all easy solutions to cut down on the inhalation of these substances.
On the mold end of things, try to ensure you have sufficient air circulation in the home. Stagnant air is one of the key factors allowing mold growth – good circulation and ventilation can make it harder for mold to take root. At the same time, try to cut down on excessive moisture in the air, with a dehumidifier. Don’t take long, hot showers without using a bathroom vent/fan, and clean up any spills of water anywhere in the home quickly and completely.
Finally, change the air filter in your heating and cooling system regularly, using the correct size and type of filter as per the manufacturer recommendations. Get your HVAC system serviced at least once a year to ensure it is in proper working order, and the inside functional parts are clean. The HVAC system is the key transport for air in your home – ensuring it is working, clean, and filtering as it should will help improve indoor air quality, potentially significantly, depending on the source of air pollutants in your home.
Air Quality Solutions – HEPA Filters
On the subject of air filters, it may be beneficial to consider investing in a HEPA filter for your home HVAC system. HEPA, or high-efficiency particulate air filters, are designed to trap particles in the air at a much greater rate and efficiency than traditional air filters. They use a combination of several technologies and methods to, by standard, at least 99.97% of particles whose diameter is equal to or greater than 0.3 micrometers – or about 1/50th the diameter of a human hair.
HEPA filters are a bit more expensive than lower-quality, less effective air filters. However, they are much more effective at capturing indoor air pollutants from all sources – and especially those from smoke, human body detritus, animals, and many common allergens. They may reduce the amount of circulating mold or asbestos particles, and cut down on fumes and irritants from cleaning materials, pesticides, and other sources.
The only drawback (aside from the higher cost) to HEPA filters is they won’t solve the underlying source of problems. If you have asbestos in the home, it will still be present and pose a hazard. The same holds true with mold, smoking, and so on. But there is no question that it will improve the quality of air coming out of the vents in your home, and filter out a good portion of those particulates which would otherwise continue to re-circulate and spread, and ultimately be inhaled – especially when you are exercising.
Air Quality Solutions – Home Asbestos and Mold Inspections and Remediation
To address underlying asbestos or mold problems, the best approach is to have a home inspection completed by a qualified inspection firm. They can take samples of any suspected asbestos-containing materials, as well as any mold found in the home, and have it analyzed by a lab to determine the best course of action. They can also spot and identify mold problems that may otherwise go unnoticed. By using advanced technology and their expert knowledge, they can often help you to reduce the risk of a mold problem developing in the first place – and help guide you to proper remediation if a mold or asbestos problem is found.
By getting an inspection from a professional, you can cut out the source of much of the most problematic and unhealthy indoor air pollution. When coupled with a HEPA filter and lifestyle or habit changes, you can dramatically improve the quality of air in your home. This will improve the healthiness of your exercise routines, as well as the overall health of those living and working in your home. It is simply one of the best investments you can make in you and your family’s health, especially if you suspect asbestos or mold in your home.
Inspection Services from FunGuy Inspections
If you are in need of a home inspection for mold or asbestos and live in the greater Los Angeles area, your best choice is FunGuy Inspections. FunGuy Inspections has a proven track-record of helping thousands of southern California home and business owners identify mold, asbestos, and other problems. They use the latest equipment and their expertise to offer advice, lab testing, and provide guidance for remediation efforts. They’re affordable, professional, and get the job done right – the first time – so that you and your family can have a safer, healthier home environment – now and in the future.
Visit FunGuy Inspections online at https://funguyinspections.com, or call 866-674-7541 to discuss services or arrange an appointment today!
Exercise is critical to staying healthy, now more than ever. You just want to be sure that while you are stuck exercising in your home, that you are breathing in the healthiest air possible. Exercising dramatically increases your respiration rate, and the amount of air that is going through your lungs. Doing so with unhealthy or polluted indoor air can negate many of the benefits of exercise, and exacerbate respiratory and allergic problems. That’s the last thing you want during a respiratory pandemic! So, be sure to consider making some lifestyle and habit changes, investing in a HEPA filter, and addressing any mold or asbestos concerns with a professional inspection. That way, you can reap the benefits of exercise and better overall health for you and your family – with the peace of mind that comes from clean air and a clean home.