Breath is the fuel our lungs and heart (aka cardiorespiratory system) use to power our muscles when we exercise, which is why we want to make sure that fuel isn’t dirty when we’re gulping it down during a workout. This is especially true because, when we work out, we’re breathing in five or six times more oxygen than we do when we’re at rest, explains Russell Buhr, MD, PhD, a pulmonologist at UCLA Health.
So if there’s a day with a high level of pollution thanks to a number of possible factors like wildfires or smog-trapping heat, exercising outside means that the quantity of pollution and irritants you’re inhaling goes up that same amount, according to Dr. Buhr. He adds that this is more of a concern for people with pre-existing conditions that affect the lungs like asthma.
However, rates of air pollution are increasing, and Dr. Buhr says that when you hear about a wildfire or heavy pollution day, it’s definitely worth checking the air quality outside to see whether you may be better served by working out indoors. Fortunately, Google recently made the ability to check super easy by releasing a new air quality layer in its app.
The new feature lets you see the Air Quality Index score, something the EPA and other organizations measure at local levels all over the country, without needing to, well, Google “AQI near me.”
User feedback helped drive this latest update to the app, according to Hema Budaraju, a senior director of product in health & search social impact at Google. “We’ve heard from many of our users that when they’re researching places to go and things to do, they’d also like to get a clearer picture of the weather and air quality before deciding to go somewhere,” she says. “You can imagine that if you’re planning a day outdoors and see that the forecast or air quality will be poor, you could then use Google search and maps to find an alternate activity.”
For similar reasons, Google’s also added a wildfire layer to maps that will show you where wildfires are in your area, which may be another indication to avoid exercising outside.
To show these layers, update Google Maps to the latest version of the app. Then click the layers button in the upper-right-hand corner, and tap the layer you want to see. No Googling required! Air quality is broken down into easy-to-understand ratings like “good,” “moderate,” and “poor.”
In general, air quality is not something you can eyeball. “Just because the sky looks fairly clear, the air quality can still be fairly poor,” Dr. Buhr says. So your safest bet is to check the AQI of where you plan to work out. Even if you don’t have an underlying pulmonary condition, it can’t hurt, and, honestly, could be a good habit to get into seeing as 90-percent of the world’s population lives in poor air quality, and air pollution continues to be a major health concern amongst global health organizations.