Air pollution is making people lazier, study claims

🔑 Key Findings:

  • Air pollution in the U.K. has lowered physical activity by 22 minutes per day
  • Rising levels of nitrogen dioxide displayed a link to more inactivity
  • Physical inactivity has been connected to higher risks for various diseases

LEICESTER, United Kingdom — Air pollution is making people lazier, a new study claims. According to scientists in the United Kingdom, current levels in that nation are causing an extra 22 minutes of inactivity each day.

This surprising finding emerged from a study conducted by scientists at the University of Leicester. They looked into how background pollution levels influence physical activity and the tendency to be inactive. Their findings revealed that long-term exposure to the current levels of air pollution lead to an increase in time spent being inactive each day. For the study, researchers defined inactivity as time spent lying down, sitting, reclining, or standing without moving.

“We’re already aware that air pollution contributes to cardiometabolic and respiratory diseases. The World Health Organization in 2019 estimated that 99% of the global population breathes air containing high levels of pollutants,” notes Dr. Jonathan Goldney from the University of Leicester in a statement.

“What’s concerning is that air pollution might also be affecting people’s willingness or ability to exercise, and their enjoyment of it. This could encourage more time spent indoors and less time being active outside, creating a vicious cycle that increases the risk of chronic diseases.”

Older man wearing face mask during COVID-19 / coronavirus pandemic
According to scientists in the United Kingdom, current levels of air pollution in that nation are causing an extra 22 minutes of inactivity each day. (© meboonstudio –

To arrive at their findings, the research team analyzed data from 644 individuals at risk of Type 2 diabetes who were part of a program encouraging physical activity through walking.

“Participants wore accelerometers around their waists for seven consecutive days, tracking their physical activity and inactive periods over three years. This provided us with a unique opportunity to observe long-term trends,” Dr. Goldney says according to SWNS.

The study compared annual average levels of common air pollutants with yearly changes in inactive time.

“While we didn’t find a link between pollutants and changes in physical activity or step count, there was a clear association with an increase in inactivity,” Dr. Goldney reports. “For instance, an increase of 1 μgm−3 in atmospheric nitrogen dioxide concentration correlated with an increase in sedentary time of about 1.52 minutes per day each year. In some cases, high nitrogen dioxide exposure was linked to up to 22 extra minutes of inactivity per day each year.”

These findings, published in the Journal of Public Health, underscore the need to reduce air pollution for public health benefits.

“If air pollution is indeed driving this rise in inactivity, measures like low emission zones could significantly impact individual sedentary behaviors and have a profound effect on public health,” Dr. Goldney concludes.

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South West News Service writer Isobel Williams contributed to this report.

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  1. With all the grant money being given to study climate change and pollution, I do not find it in the least surprising that some PhD hopeful links pollution to something, anything.
    And if he is lucky he will find a way to link the solution, not to clean air or exercise but to medication from a big pharma source.

  2. Is it that pollution makes people lazy – OR the effects of inhaling toxic smoke, etc affecting people trying to carry on outdoor activities?

    I went for a walk in my area (a rapidly urbanizing area) which was pristine pasture and natural wooded habitat until the last decade.

    Developers are busy putting in developments with many thousands of homes and have been bulldozing by the square kilometer at a time, pushing the trees and brush into piles and then burning the piles after the uprooted vegetation has dried out sufficiently. The latest pile was burned yesterday less than a kilometer from my home.

    After going outside, the acrid smoke was noticeable. As the haze got thicker, my family had to retreat and go indoors from what would have been a leisurely country stroll to enjoy fresh air and wildlife. I was probably exposed to the smoke/carcinogen equivalent of 5 packs of cigarettes in a short time. The smoke made me feel ill for most of the day after that.

    Just great!

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