Maine DEP Focuses on Smart Exercise During Pollution Periods 'In Our Backyard'

May 12, 2011

Samantha DePoy-Warren, Maine DEP Spokesperson/Director of Education & Outreach

A note about In Our Backyard: In Our Backyard is a monthly, staff-written informational column developed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and available to the press and the public. E-mail your environmental questions to or send them to In Our Backyard, Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.

In Our Backyard: Exercising Smarter As Pollution Levels Rise

By Martha Webster, Maine Department of Environmental Protection

Meteorologists from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection forecast air quality year-round using the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s color-coded Air Quality Index (AQI) and issue alerts during elevated pollution periods. These alerts recommend people avoid prolonged outdoor exertion at a time when medical experts are encouraging exercise like never before.

So what is up with the mixed messages?

Actually, the messages aren’t mixed. Maine DEP is not urging people to stop exercise. The Air Quality Alert health messages put out by the department when ozone and particle pollution levels become elevated encourage people not to completely eliminate exercise but rather to reduce their exposure to poor air quality by exercising smart. These pollutants are of concern to forecasters and should be to the public because both impact the lungs and heart, organs already stressed by athletic activity.

On most days in Maine, pollution levels for both are measured in the “good” range (green) but when they rise into the “moderate” range (yellow), individuals who are sensitive to pollution should reduce their exposure and exertion. When the pollution levels rise into the ranges of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” (orange), “unhealthy” (red) and “very unhealthy” (purple), Maine DEP issues their alerts because even healthy individuals who are exercising or working strenuously can be negatively affected and as a result, should reduce their exposure through smart exercise.

Smart exercise means thinking through your activities for the day when air quality is expected to be poor and making changes to reduce your exposure to poor air quality. When we exert ourselves, we breathe heavier and bring more air into our lungs. The point of smart exercise is to reduce the amount of polluted air brought into our lungs.

Here are a few ways you can exercise in a smarter way:

-Change the exertion level – if you usually run, it might be a good idea to walk.

-Change the amount of time of your workout – if you usually workout for an hour, shorten it to 30 minutes instead.

-Change the location – if you usually run/walk along a busy road, it would be a good idea to find a park or another location away from roadways where automobile-generated pollution is most prevalent.

-Move it indoors – if you often exercise outside, it might be wise to workout indoors.

-Change the time of day – depending on which pollutant is expected to be high you might be able to exercise at a time of day when pollution levels are lower. Ozone is a photochemical pollutant, which means it needs strong sunlight to form from other pollutants in the air. Ozone can be a problem especially during the summer months in Maine and peaks during the afternoon and early evening hours. Particle pollution levels are often highest around sunrise and sunset.

Maine DEP provides a variety of tools for the public and press to stay informed on the current levels and resulting impacts to human health. The department’s daily air quality forecast is available on the web (go to and click on “Maine Air Quality Forecast”), on a toll-free hotline (800-223-1196), on Twitter and also via email or text message from EnviroFlash (click on the EnviroFlash or Twitter link on the air quality forecast page).

People who are affected by poor air quality including asthmatics and those with heart conditions and those who are responsible for the welfare of people impacted by poor air quality –like sports coaches, elder care workers and nurses– are urged to check the forecast daily because when more than one pollutant is “moderate” or above they can compound the health effects of each other.

So keep an eye on the AQI and when appropriate, choose smart exercise.

This column was submitted by Martha Webster, Air Quality Meteorologist for Maine DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for protecting and restoring Maine's natural resources and enforcing the state's environmental laws. Legislative mandate directs DEP to prevent, abate and control the pollution of the air, water and land. The department is also directed to protect and enhance the public's right to use and enjoy Maine’s natural resources. For more information about the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, visit