Increase Your Lifespan by Avoiding These Pollutants
When we think of what contributes to longevity, we typically think of the three big factors: fitness, nutrition, and sleep. However, pollutants are also one of the main determinants of our longevity. Our involuntary exposure to environmental carcinogens, which includes pollutants, chemicals, and radiation, may account for increasing rates of cancer.
In this article, we discuss the top five pollutants to avoid to increase your longevity and how you can minimize them in your immediate environment.
1. Air Pollutants
Air pollution has been shown to decrease global life expectancy by nearly two years.
In fact, the Air Quality Life Index report published by the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago claims that particulate matter air pollution is the greatest threat to global human health at this moment.
Outdoor air pollution mainly comes from burning fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil), which generate gas, smog, and soot that are harmful to breathe. Poor air quality can be linked to increased hospitalization for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, pneumonia, and more.
There are a few ways you can reduce air pollution when going outside:
- Track the air quality index (AQI). You can use a site such as AirNow, or Apple's weather app on the iPhone, to determine the AQI of your given location. When the AQI is high, consider staying inside and especially avoiding areas that have a lot of vehicular traffic.
- Reconsider transportation. Relying on different modes of transportation such as cycling, walking, or electric vehicles can help minimize your contribution to air pollution, and it can also lower your own exposure to these pollutants.
- Wear a mask. Wearing certain masks like N95 masks can help filter some of the outdoor pollutants you’ll come into contact with when you go outside.
2. Water Pollutants
Over the years and across different countries, the quality and safety of drinking water has been directly linked to the increase or decrease in mortality rates.
In the United States, we’re used to drinking tap water from the faucet, but tap water has only been regulated federally since 1974, when Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. These laws enforce drinking water standards for contaminants. Before that, between 1900 and 1940, the introduction of water filtration and chlorination in major cities contributed to death rates declining by 30 percent.
Contaminated water can have a variety of pollutants, such as heavy metals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and microbial contaminants, all of which can negatively affect our organs and the way our immune system functions.
You can avoid water pollutants several ways:
- Invest in a reliable water filtration system. This one by 3M comes highly recommended as one that’s simple, easy to install, and affordable.
- Drink bottled water or boiled water if something impacts your water source.
- Reduce your usage of pesticides and fertilizers to prevent runoff pollution and to protect water sources.
3. Chemical Exposure
When people think of chemicals and contaminants that can cause cancer, they typically think of food, water, and air. However, there are a lot of harmful carcinogens in cosmetics and personal care products, which surprisingly comes with little government oversight. Although most ingredients in these products don’t pose a big risk, some have been linked to serious health issues such as cancer.
- Formaldehyde and types of formaldehydes (e.g. paraformaldehyde, methylene glycol)
- Quaternium 15, which releases formaldehyde
- Mercury, associated with neurological and kidney problems
- Phthalates, associated with hormonal disruption and damaging the reproductive system
- Parabens, associated with hormonal disruption and damaging the reproductive system
- PFAS, associated with cancer
- Triclosan, associated with antibiotic resistance and hormonal disruption
You can reduce your exposure to these pollutants by choosing natural and organic alternatives in your cleaning products, personal care items, and cosmetics. The best way to determine if any of these ingredients are in your products is by carefully reading labels to identify potentially harmful ingredients. Minimize products with strong fragrances and opt for eco-friendly options when you can.
4. Indoor Pollutants
Indoor pollutants can come from regular house dust, mold, cookstove gas, wood smoke, allergens, and more. These can cause a variety of issues, from irritation of eyes, nose, and throat to respiratory diseases, heart disease, and even cancer.
The best way to minimize the indoor pollutants you come into contact with is to regularly clean all areas of your home and use ventilation in any cooking or burning situation by using fans or open windows.
Here are some ways to reduce the harmful effects of indoor pollutants:
- Dust and vacuum once a week. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter if you can, which will trap pollutants. Even house dust can have chemicals such as PFAS and phthalates. Here’s a vacuum cleaner from Shark that is anti-allergen and even perfect for pets.
- Clean your bedding regularly and use pillow and mattress protectors.
- Limit your usage of fireplaces. Inhaling the smoke from burning wood can lead to respiratory issues and increase your risk of cancer.
- Prevent mold growth by regularly cleaning your bathrooms, kitchen, and basement. Use a dehumidifier if needed.
- Replace your filters regularly. This can help improve your air quality and reduce the amount of energy needed to run your air conditioner.
- Use an air purifier. Purifiers with a HEPA filter can significantly reduce the airborne particles that come from dust and smoke, which can improve the quality of air inside your house. Here’s a mid-range air purifier with a HEPA filter that can help you get started.
5. Electromagnetic Radiation
In the modern day and age, unless we choose to go completely off the grid, it’s impossible to avoid electromagnetic radiation from all the technology we use. Not all electromagnetic radiation is bad - scientists typically agree that low-frequency electromagnetic fields don’t pose a large danger to humans.
Even outside of low-frequency electromagnetic fields, there’s a bit of disagreement among scientists whether electromagnetic fields in general pose a threat to human health and how much. That being said, based on studies done, we can conclude that there could be some risk involved – risks that include mild symptoms such as headaches and memory loss, all the way up to brain cancer.
It doesn’t hurt to incorporate these steps to minimize your exposure to electromagnetic radiation that may be harmful for your health:
- Don’t linger near appliances you frequently use (e.g. microwave, washing machine). Interact with them as needed, then move away.
- Create technology-free zones in your home, such as your bedroom, to minimize exposure while you’re asleep.
- Keep Wi-Fi routers away from frequently trafficked areas in your house or consider turning them off at night.
- Use the speaker function or headphones with your phone, versus putting the phone to your ear when taking calls.
- Limit X-rays to only the ones that are medically necessary.
- Limit your time in the sun or especially in tanning beds.
There are many pieces of the longevity puzzle that are important to pay attention to. What you choose to proactively do is just as important as what you choose to avoid, and pollutants fall into the category of things to minimize or avoid to increase your lifespan.
Not only that, by understanding which pollutants to avoid and implementing strategies to minimize our exposure to them, we can create healthier environments for ourselves and the immediate environment around us.
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