Exercising In a City: Is Pollution a Cardio Concern?

Key Points

  • Air pollution is higher in intensely populated areas. 

  • When exercising in a city, it's normal to be concerned about air pollution. 

  • The benefits of exercise override the damage from certain levels of air pollution. 

  • Lack of flexibility, space, and opportunity makes exercising in a city a complex problem.

Living in a large city is filled with daily occurrences non-city dwellers never imagine. Your ears fill with people talking and horns honking at all hours of the day. One of the best parts about living in a city is that you always have options on where to eat, shop, and — of course — workout. Exercising in a city is a unique way to get healthier; concrete jungles offer many unique spaces to fit endorphin-inducing activity.

Air pollution from growing populations and numerous transportation methods leaves many curious about the safety of exercising in a city – especially if you’re doing cardio outdoors. Are you putting your lungs through too much? Do the benefits outweigh the potential hazards?


There are different types of pollution: air, soil, noise, and water. All kinds of pollution are important, but air pollution is the most notable for people looking to be more active in the city. Air pollution is the introduction of chemicals and waste into the wind. 

Lungs act as natural filters against dirty air. Passages in the nose and throat have tiny branches that collect dust and debris from oxygen as it's inhaled. These filters prevent the contaminants from reaching the lungs and bloodstream. 

The body has biological ways of fighting pollution, but constant over-exposure damages your health. Stay at healthy levels of air quality to reduce the stress on your respiratory system. 

Air Quality

Air quality is a measure of the cleanliness of the air. The Air Quality Index (AQI) is used to measure the amount of pollution in the air. A higher AQI means a higher amount of corruption in the air. If the AQI is under 50, you don't have to worry. 

If you have breathing problems or other conditions where pollution might affect you, an AQI above 100 isn't ideal. If the index surpasses 150, some people experience symptoms without previously existing conditions. Anything above 300 is dangerous, and everyone shows symptoms. 

Find your local AQI on your phone's weather reports, news channels, and apps. Knowing the AQI before exercising outside in a city is essential, so you know how to protect yourself. 

Protection From Air Pollution

It's possible to exercise outside when AQI is higher than usual but lower than hazardous levels. Take precautions to limit your exposure to the contaminants. Stay safe from impure weather by wearing masks, setting time limits, and doing low-intensity workouts. 

Wear a breathable mask to filter out pollution while exercising. Limiting the time you spend exercising outdoors also limits your risk of harm. Low-intensity workouts, such as body weight exercises, don't require as much breathing as running. This limits the amount of polluted air you're inhaling.

Preparing yourself is the first step to exercising in the city. 

Workout Downtown

Cities are incredibly crowded. Sidewalks fill with the bustle and movement of feet rattling back and forth. It's nearly impossible just to cross the street. However, pilates studios and gyms are all over metropolitan areas. 

Being in a larger city exposes you to several opportunities to increase activity. Niche gyms and fitness clubs are aplenty. You won't have trouble finding a place to do yoga or lift weights. 

City streets are busier at certain times of the day. Walking or running on the sidewalk during slower times lets you get that jog in without having to duck and dodge pedestrians. Using sidewalks instead of buses and cabs also improves your activity levels. 

It's not very relaxing to workout when people crowd around. Self-consciousness and fear of ridicule creep in and begin breaking down your iron-clad determination. Ideal environments make you more comfortable and thus, apt to workout to the best of your ability. 

What Is the Best Environment for Exercise? 

The best environment for exercise depends on you, your health, and your location.

Elevation varies across the world. It's harder to breathe in places with a higher elevation than in lower areas. Pollution is thicker in different locations, too. The best environment for you to workout in is the one that you love. 

Having medical conditions means your environment may need to be safer than average, such as near a building or where you could quickly get help if needed. Avoid extreme temperatures and weather conditions.

The best environment for exercise also needs to take into account the type of exercise you are wanting to accomplish. 

Types of Exercise

Understanding different types of exercise allows you to pick the best style based on your location and workout goals. Weight lifting is when you purposefully use weights or resistance to improve the strength, size, and stamina of your muscles. By doing these types of exercises, your muscles experience micro-tears that encourage the muscles to grow back bigger and stronger. 

Aerobics involves cardio-enhancing activities. Aerobics raises heart rate and breathing, as well as stretching and strengthening the muscles. Incorporating strength, stretching, and cardio training provides a well-rounded workout. 

Yoga is an excellent form of exercise for tight muscles. The Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging claims, "daily stretching has been shown to increase range of motion, flexibility, and blood flow to muscles." 

Think of the environment you're going to be in, whether at an open park or in the middle of the city and determine what type of exercise would be best. If there is a set of vacant steps, run up and down them for an effective cardio workout. Find a safe, small area at your local park to practice yoga.

Picking the perfect environment makes exercise more fun. 

Fun Ways to Exercise

Working out doesn't have to mean pouring sweat, chugging water, and panting like a dog at the dog park. Exercise should be fun! Everyone's definition of fun is different. Decide what's fun for you when trying out the tips below. 

  • Use equipment. You don't have to carry 25-pound dumbbells, but bringing equipment makes the workout more engaging. Yoga blocks, jump ropes, and resistance bands give you the same benefits as training at a gym! Plus, all of these fit nicely in a backpack. 

  • Bed exercises. Yes, you heard that right. Work out in bed! The main benefits of exercise come from movement. Movement requires muscle effort, blood flow, and nerve activation. As long as you're moving, you're getting benefits! Bed workouts include bodyweight exercises, yoga, and stretching. 

  • Invite your friends. Living in a city has advantages — like more opportunities to make friends! Invite your friends to your next park workout, or offer to set up a time for everyone to meet. 

  • Find a set of stairs. Stairs may sound boring, but their versatility makes them one of the best environments for exercise. Perform squats, stretches, yoga, cardio, and aerobics on a stairway of your choosing. Skip a step while walking up, lean down for push-ups, or jog down for a rush of adrenaline. 

  • Add music. Wear headphones or play music next to you when exercising. Movement is always better when rocking with a beat. Just be sure to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Regularly doing the same type of exercise in the same place gets boring. It's best to learn how to make the most of your space, especially if you live in a small apartment or other confined area. 

Exercising In a Small Space

Yoga is a great way to exercise in a small area. You only need room for your height with your arms stretched up, and enough floor space for a yoga mat. Roll up a yoga mat or hang it on the wall to save space when you're done.

Body weight exercises are excellent for those with little equipment. You need your body! Jumping jacks, lunges, crunches, and hip bridges are all done within a few feet. Plus, you won't need to keep any equipment. 

Weight lifting is also done safely with objects around your house. Do you have an empty milk gallon? Rinse it out, fill it with water or sand, and use it as a dumbbell. Find a heavy basket or box and place it on the ground. Repeatedly squat down, pick it up, then lower it back to the ground.

Consider utilizing furniture in your workouts. Tuck your toes underneath the couch for stability as you're doing crunches. Practice tricep dips on the counter. Rest your foot on a table and lean over your knee to stretch your hamstrings or perform one-legged squats.

Staying in the same spot over and over gets dull fast. When you get bored, you lack the motivation to continue. Mix it up by discovering new places to exercise in a city. 

How to Find Areas to Exercise in a City

Joining social media clubs, such as groups on Facebook, link you with other people in your area who are also interested in fitness. You may find a running group that meets every morning at a time that fits just right with your schedule. Some people may post their routines for exercising in a tiny space or their favorite gym.

Find gyms and fitness clubs near you. Many local gyms offer day passes, classes, or boot camps. There could be a gym that fits all your needs only two blocks away. There are also plenty of online workouts — check Instagram or YouTube — to stream and follow from various areas in a city. 

Use a map to find local parks. Parks have wide open spaces for running, aerobics, yoga, and anything you can imagine. Just remember these places tend to be busy, so stay aware. It would be less than ideal to collide with a mother of two simply trying to walk her dog. 

Exercising in a city, unfortunately, involves traveling in that city. Whether walking, taking the subway, or waving down a taxi, you experience traffic and people everywhere. You only sometimes have time to spend as much time traveling as you do exercising. Make the most of your time with HIIT workouts. 

HIIT Workouts

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) works to improve strength and endurance and to lose weight. It provides profound benefits in a shorter time than many traditional forms of training.

HIIT training includes periods of intense workout followed by immediate periods of rest. Incorporate the rest period in several ways. Exercise for 40 seconds straight, followed by 20 seconds of rest, for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.

Strategically placed rest periods cause the body to burn fat for energy to complete the movement. Making your body burn fat assists in weight loss more than methods that require the body to use carbohydrates for energy. This is why you get the same benefits of a 45-minute run as a 25-minute HIIT workout. 

HIIT workouts are great because you look forward to the rest period. This motivates you to work harder because you know the time to breathe is coming soon. Sometimes it takes effort to gather the motivation to exercise. 

Getting Motivated

It's challenging to stay motivated to exercise all the time. Find what works best for you and run with it! Use the following suggestions to get yourself moving:

  1. Set goals. Setting goals gives you something to work toward. It keeps your eyes on the prize and gives you a reason to lace up your shoes. 

  2. Use others for accountability. When you speak something into existence, it becomes real. Telling others about your exercise journey holds you accountable. They encourage you and ask about your progress. 

  3. Understand the benefits of exercise. Exercise improves your quality of life. Exercise decreases the risks of health conditions, improves mental health, and makes you happier. 

  4. Make working out fun. Is it even work if you're having fun? 

  5. Create a plan. Make a list of locations to check out. Decide what types of exercise would be best for each of those areas. Choose your workout based on type or setting. 

Grab Your Backpack

Exercising in a city is often intimidating. Trying to get a workout in is a challenge when it feels like you have an audience on every corner. Throw in limited space and crowded sidewalks and it quickly feels like exercising is impossible.

Whether doing push-ups by the pigeons at the park or stretching in your studio apartment, exercising in the city is done by finding the best environment, choosing the best exercise type, and staying motivated.

Throw some resistance bands and a dumbbell or two in your backpack and head for the concrete jungle!

Was this article helpful?

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.

Top 3 Stories