Running Afoul in Delhi: 7 Tips for Exercising in Polluted Air

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Staying in shape while traveling long-term can be difficult. If you are a digital nomad, odds are you spend a good deal of your day stuck behind a computer. It’s a life of long periods of inactivity coupled with the binge drinking eating of local delicacies that aren’t necessarily the healthiest items on the menu. My remedy for this situation has been to take up running. It’s cheap; it’s easy, and you get to know your neighborhood. But in Delhi, running can actually be harmful to your health. I am of course talking about the city’s air pollution, which is consistently ranked among the worst in the world. If you happen to be stuck in Delhi, or any other city where breathing isn’t taken for granted, these seven tips may save your weekly workout routine.

  1. Check the AQI

There are two components to air pollution that primarily concern a runner: particles below 2.5 millimeters, known as PM2.5, and nitrogen dioxide, NO2. The first is a result of everything from traffic to crop burning while the second is the cause of that noxious smell on a congested freeway. A nifty little website reports these numbers on an hourly basis for cities around the world. If you live in Delhi, or any other city for that matter, you should check this website before a run. Ideally, PM2.5 should be well under 100 and NO2 under 50. Personally, I would never run when the PM2.5 index is over 200 as the benefits of exercise could very well be outweighed by the damage to your lungs. I also avoid running if the NO2 index breaches 100.

  1. Don’t Run in the Morning

This may seem counter-intuitive; after all, the air always feels crisper in the morning. But the best time to run is actually just before sunset, even if this coincides with rush hour. The reason is thermodynamics. As temperatures rise, so does the pollution-filled air. When temperatures drop during the night, pollution is pushed back down to the surface of the earth. The early morning hours consistently have the highest PM2.5 levels in Delhi.

  1. Join a Gym

If your exercise routine involves cross training, then joining a gym may be your best bet. Decent gyms in South Delhi run a little less than $100 a month or $10 for one-time use. Not cheap, especially, if you are only going for the treadmill. Still, if you are staying long-term in Delhi, a gym is something to seriously consider to avoid pollution-related health issues.

  1. Find a Park

With its chaotic traffic and lack of sidewalks, Delhi isn’t for city running. There are, however, a number of parks that make ideal locations for a jog. Parks act as a city’s lungs, and the added foliage does help keep the air a bit cleaner in the surroundings. My favorite is Hauz Khas Park because of its central location. Of course, the farther out of the city you go, the better the air quality. Aravalli Bio Diversity Park (Metro Guru Dronacharya) is a nice option, especially for longer runs, but does require a short auto rickshaw ride unless you want to walk a kilometer along the highway.

5. Take it Easy

Unless you are actively training for a race, it may be better to cut back a bit on your routine. The greater the exertion the more polluted air we intake into our lungs. A few months of maintaining instead of pushing yourself to the next level will probably be the healthiest option for your body. And, of course, you should immediately stop running if you notice any symptoms that may be linked to air pollution such as dizziness, headaches, or nausea.

6. Stay Hydrated

It may not actually make much of a difference as far as pollution entering your lungs is concerned, but staying hydrated is more important than ever in Delhi. Dehydration can exasperate any symptoms you may experience while running in pollution. Drinking a little extra a day is a easy way to keep your body feeling good despite the unclean air.

  1. Buy a Mask

Most disposable masks won’t stop particles smaller than PM2.5. Luckily there are several options available including a filter mask specifically designed for biking. I admit I haven’t tried this one and have no idea how it would impact breathing. I do know that if I were here for more than a few months, I wouldn’t run outside without one.

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One thought on “Running Afoul in Delhi: 7 Tips for Exercising in Polluted Air”

  1. I’m a great fan of the traveling. Your a fantastic writer and you write about all the places people don’t have the guts to go to. Anyone wanting to know a wider world and what’s it like to actually live in those places should be reading your blog. Keep up the good work. As for New Delhi, why would anyone want to run around that city, it must be as bad as Beijing. The traffic itself looks like a killer.

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