Updated: 2019, Jun 15

Can Outdoor Training Decrease Your Cognitive Ability?

By - Reviewed by CHD Team
Outdoor Training Decrease Your Cognitive Ability

People usually prefer outdoor training and activities more than training indoors. But the question is: can outdoor training be bad for you, more precisely can it decrease your cognitive gains? This article will discuss the impact of outdoor training on our cognitive abilities.

The Research

The research was conducted by Belgium researchers at the Flemish Institute for Technological Research, Mol, Belgium. In order to analyze the effect of outdoor training, they compared the effects in both rural and urban areas. The research included two groups of volunteers: 15 students from Brussels, and 9 students from a University in smaller town, Mol.

Each group did a 12-week exercise routine and they were training 3 times per week on the universities’ tracks.

The participants followed the Start to run program that included 20 minutes of walking and running and 32 minutes of sole running.

Researchers measured the level of particulate matter between 0.02 and 1 micrometer in diameter – the form of pollution by cars and trucks.

The Outcome of the Research

The results of the study showed that both groups increased their fitness levels equally. However, the group of students from Brussels had higher levels of markers of systematic and respiratory inflammation. On the other hand, these parameters in group of students from Mol didn’t change. Moreover, the group from smaller town had increased score on Strop Test that measures selective attention and response inhibition while group of students from Brussels didn’t show any improvement.

The question is: Why did cognitive gain in people from rural area improve while group from Brussels had no improvement? According to researchers, it is due to air pollution. They believe that exposure to air pollution can increase cognitive decline in both humans and animals. Scientists discovered that inflammation in lugs and other parts of the body increased with the increase of air pollution.

The findings of this study were published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Air Pollution and Physical Activity

Air Pollution and Physical Activity

Even before the results of this study emerged, there have been some ideas about the bad influence of physical activity outdoors on the health of an individual. Air pollution and exercise can sometimes be an unhealthy combination, especially if you have:

The truth is, even if you do not exercise, long exposure to air pollution can have negative impact on your overall health.

Why is Air Pollution and Exercise Such a Bad Combination?

Air Pollution and Exercise Info

According to some experts, during the aerobic activity the person usually inhales more air and breathes it more deeply into his or her lungs. As that person is more likely to breathe through his or her mouth during the workout session the air they breathe bypasses the nasal passages whose purpose is to filter the airborne pollution particles. Without the filtration of these particles, there is nothing that can prevent them from settling in our body which leads to our body’s response to the “intruders”.

Air pollution is associated with:

  • Damage to lungs and airways
  • Increases risk of death from cardiovascular disease or lung cancer
  • Increases risk of asthma
  • Increases risk of stroke or heart attack
  • Contributes to development of other lung conditions and worsens the existing symptoms of asthma.

Does this Mean I Should Stop Exercising Outdoors?

Stop Exercising Outdoors

Not at all, physical activity has numerous benefits for your health and you shouldn’t stop exercising. However, in order to prevent the negative effect that comes with air pollution, you should take some things into consideration:

  • Check The Level of Air Quality – Before you head out to jog or exercise, you should check the air quality on local weather station or even app. There are many different apps right now that can show you not only the weather but the air quality as well. You should do this every time before exercising outdoor especially if you have respiratory or cardiovascular conditions.
  • Exercise Inside – If the quality of air is low you should go to gym to exercise instead of avoiding the physical activity in general.
  • Choose Quite Areas – You can go to nearby park and exercise. It is not near the heavy traffic zone, you will feel more relaxed, and you won’t have to inhale all those car fumes.
  • Avoid Rush Hours – Try to plan your workouts in the way that they aren’t at the same time as rush hours. Again, no car fumes.

Read Also: What Happens after You Stop Working Out?


According to the research conducted in Belgium, exercising outdoor, in heavy air polluted areas can have negative impact on our cognitive ability. Additionally, air pollution can contribute to development of many other health conditions as well. However, this doesn’t mean you should stop exercising outdoors, you just have to be more careful about it e.g. avoid rush hours, check air quality.

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