Urban workouts may up inflammation while rural ones may improve thinking

Breathing particulate matter (PM), a type of air pollution common in urban areas, has been linked to inflammation, neuroinflammation, and cognitive decline.

Exercise, on the other hand, is firmly linked to cognitive improvement. Researchers wondered how the combination would balance out.

To find out they recruited 24 untrained volunteers and had them all complete the same thrice-weekly, 12-week aerobic training program. Fifteen worked out in an urban location and 9 in a rural environment. Levels of particulate matter were measured at each location and at every session and levels of ultrafine particulate matter were consistently higher in the urban location. Fitness, blood, and respiratory gas tests were performed before and after the 12 weeks.

Fitness levels improved equally in the groups at both locations; markers for inflammation rose in the urban group but didn’t change in the rural group; reaction times on the “Stroop task” (which measures the capacity to direct attention) improved in the rural group but not in the urban group. All other cognitive test performances remained the same in both groups. So if you want to clear your head you may want to head outside in the country.