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Amid death of model, doctor says Taiwan's air pollution harmful to heart

Doctor says even moderate exercise can damage heart on polluted days

Oren Chang (Instagram, Oren Chang photo)

Oren Chang (Instagram, Oren Chang photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Amid the sudden death of a young model from a heart condition while exercising on Monday (March 15), a pulmonologist has asserted that exercise is dangerous for the cardiovascular system on heavily polluted days.

While working out Monday evening, 23-year-old model Oren Chang (張誌軒) began to feel chest pain and suddenly fainted. Paramedics rushed to the scene, but by the time Chang was loaded into the ambulance, he had already lost all vital signs.

Doctors were unable to resuscitate him, and he was declared dead at the hospital. Based on a preliminary investigation, he is believed to have died from vascular obstruction caused by aortic dissection.

According to the Air Quality Monitoring Network of the Environmental Protection Administration, by 10 a.m. on Monday, seven stations in southern Taiwan had issued a red alert, meaning unhealthy air for all groups. In addition, 27 stations in western Taiwan had issued an orange warning, signifying unhealthy air for sensitive groups.

Taiwan's air quality has been very poor in recent days, and Su I-feng (蘇一峰), a pulmonologist at Yangming Hospital pointed out in a blog post that British studies have found that even walking slowly on polluted streets is not only useless for the heart and lungs but may also be harmful. The study looked at subjects over the age of 60, including 40 healthy volunteers, 40 patients with second-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and 39 patients with coronary artery disease (CAD).

Each subject took a two-hour walk of about five kilometers between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and the slow walks were divided into two places. The first was Oxford Street, a busy area of London which has an average PM2.5 concentration of 17-18. In addition to PM2.5, other air pollutants are also high.

The other test area was London's famous Hyde Park, which covers an area ​​five to six times larger than Taipei's Da'an Forest Park and has an average PM2.5 concentration of only 6-7. The subjects received multiple pulmonary function tests and arterial elasticity tests between the first two hours and the last 26 hours of their walks.

Su said the surprising finding was that the lung function and blood vessel elasticity of the group that exercised in Hyde Park had improved. However, the lung function of the group that walked on Oxford Street had not improved, and their arteries had lost some elasticity and hardened.

Those who received cardiopulmonary benefits from walking in Hyde Park saw them immediately disappear when they walked on Oxford Street the next day. The study also found that subjects who walked on Oxford Street were twice as likely to have a cough, three times as likely to have sputum, and four times as likely to experience wheezing compared to subjects who walked in Hyde Park.

Su pointed out that at the time of this experiment, the average PM2.5 concentration on Oxford Street was only 17-18. In comparison, the PM2.5 level in Taiwan often exceeds 50-60 and can even reach red and purple levels.

He suggested that exercise on polluted days is actually detrimental to physical health. In normal daily life, the average person inhales and exhales 5,000-10,000 liters of air per day. During intense exercise such as a marathon, this volume will increase by seven to 10 times, and a large amount of PM2.5 and other harmful particles will be inhaled on a polluted day.

Su suggested that when the air is polluted, patients with chronic cardiopulmonary diseases should try to work out indoors, such as by exercising in the gym or swimming, or going to the suburbs. He also emphasized the importance of wearing an N95 mask that fits snuggly on the face.

Updated : 2021-05-19 03:00 GMT+08:00