Air pollution

Air pollution Research shows that high levels of air pollution could make your heart condition worse. However, following some simple advice can help you to manage your condition when pollution levels are high.

Air pollution and your heart

  • Breathing in high amounts of polluted air is linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke
  • If you have heart failure, high levels of air pollution could make your condition worse.
  • You might also feel your symptoms get worse if you have angina or atrial fibrillation.

Further research is needed to better understand how air pollution affects the heart and the blood vessels. The British Heart Foundation is currently funding scientists in this area.

What can I do to protect my heart?

If you have a heart or lung condition you may want to avoid spending long periods of time in places where there are high levels of air pollution. This might mean areas with busy traffic or near where pollution generated by industry adds to that produced by traffic.
Current evidence shows that healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular disease have a low risk of having a heart attack or stroke following exposure to high levels of pollution.

If you have cardiovascular disease it’s important to regularly monitor the air pollution level where you live and work. The Government’s UK-AIR website provides a daily pollution forecast and classes levels as low, moderate, high or very high.

There is also a postcode finder service to monitor air pollution levels in your own area.You can sign up to text alerts, follow the @DefraUKAir Twitter feed or call the helpline 0800 55 66 77. The BBC weather forecast also provides an air quality rating on its online forecast service.

Is it safe to exercise outside?

Aerobic physical activity is very good for your heart and for most people the benefits of exercising outdoors outweigh the risks associated with air pollution.

However, if you have a heart problem or chronic lung disease you should follow government advice:

  • when air pollution is ‘very high’ – avoid going outside for long periods or taking part in strenuous exercise
  • when air pollution is ‘high’ – reduce the amount of strenuous activity you do, particularly outdoors and particularly if you have symptoms.

It’s still important to be physically active throughout the day so when the air quality is poor, make sure you’re active indoors. 

At the moment there isn’t enough evidence to recommend the use of facemasks in the UK.

Further information

Download our factsheet for more information on how air pollution can affect your heart health.

Call our Heart helpline on 0300 330 3311. Our cardiac nurses and information support officers are here to answer your questions and give you all the heart health information and support you need.

Local information:

BHF is working to make sure that UK governments do everything they can to meet European Commission targets to improve air quality. Find out more about our policy on air pollution.