By: Hannah Klaus and Kandyce Dunlap
Understanding the Air Quality Index (AQI)
It is important for everyone to be informed about daily air quality in order to reduce their exposure to air pollution. The AQI is a tool used to report daily air quality. The daily AQI for your area can be found on the EPA website and is generally available on weather channels and apps. Many apps including “EPA AirNOW” are available through the Google Play store or the iPhone Apple store.
Children, the elderly, those with heart disease and those with respiratory conditions should spend less time outdoors on days that the air quality is code yellow and orange. Everyone should take caution and try to stay indoors on code red, purple, or maroon days.
Air quality is better at certain times of day
When pollutants are emitted by cars, chemical plants, power plants and other facilities they react with sunlight. As the sun rises higher during the day there are more chemical reactions. Because of this, ozone pollution levels are higher in the late afternoon, generally from 2-7 p.m. Ozone pollution is most likely to reach unhealthy levels in urban environments during the summer; however, because ozone can be transported by wind, rural areas can also experience high ozone levels.
How to stay active and healthy
MAHA has created infographics for adults and children to help you know what to do on poor air quality days. It is important to limit time outside on poor air quality days. In particular, physical activity outdoors is not recommended on a poor air quality day because exercise requires your body to take in more air than normal, which increases the amount of pollution that you breathe in. In order to prevent an asthma attack or to avoid exacerbating other health conditions, opt for indoor activities if the air quality is bad. Below are some recommendations for staying active while limiting exposure to pollution:
- Limit outdoor exercise to the morning when ozone levels are generally lower.
- Limit the time or intensity of your outdoor physical activity
- Avoid exercising near high traffic areas where pollution levels are high
- For children in school: On poor air quality days, give children the option of having indoor recess
- Limit your outdoor play time between 2-7 p.m, on poor air quality days
Fun family activities for poor air quality days
It can be challenging to stay mentally and physically active while staying indoors, especially for children. Here are some activities for you and your family to do on poor air quality days:
- Exercise in your local community center, YMCA, or gym.
- Challenge yourself or others to a wall sit competition while watching your favorite television shows.
- Find an empty space on a wall. Stand with your back against the wall and your feet shoulder-width apart. Slide down the wall until your knees are at a 90-degree angle. Hold for as long as you can, or repeat in 1-2 minute intervals.
- Start a garden
- Grow your own herbs inside with small, starter pots. Include children for a fun activity indoors.
- Attend a fitness class at your local community center, YMCA or gym.
- Find a yoga or pilates video online (there are many on YouTube).
- Use a fitness app, such as FitBit, to stream short fitness videos.
- Go to a museum.
- Play board games or card games.
- At home indoor bowling:
- A great way to reuse empty water bottles (you can use cups if you don’t have any water bottles). Set up the “pins” in a triangle at one end of the floor (6-10). Put a piece of masking tape at the other end of the floor as the release point. Get an indoor ball and start bowling! You can keep score and hand out prizes at the end too.
- Try a STEM indoor learning activity with your children. One such activity is building geodesic structures using toothpicks and gummy bears or marshmallows. Have your children test their engineering skills and see how tall or creative of a structure they can build without it falling over.
- For more STEM learning activities like this, click here.
How to improve air quality
You have the ability to reduce air pollution so that more days are “good” air days. Below are some ways that you can contribute to keeping the air clean:
- Encourage your child’s school not to allow school buses to idle outside of the school building.
- Do not idle in your car. Turn off your engine while you are waiting in your car.
- Carpool to work or school.
- Bike to work or school if possible.
- Take public transportation such as a bus or train.
- Do not burn trash, leaves or other items in your backyard.
- Use hand-powered or electric garden tools.
- Check your tire pressure. Properly inflated tires can improve fuel efficiency.
- Conserve electricity by setting your thermostat a little higher in the summer and a little lower in the winter.
- Support us in ensuring cleaner air quality for all North Carolinians.