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Subclinical Effects of Aerobic Training in Urban Environment


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2013 - Volume 45 - Issue 3 - p 439–447
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31827767fc
Basic Sciences

Purpose Particulate matter (PM) exposure is linked to inflammation, neuroinflammation, and cognitive decline, whereas aerobic training improves cognition. We investigated the effects of PM exposure during aerobic training on inflammatory biomarkers, serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), an assumed mediator of exercise-induced cognitive improvements, and cognitive performance.

Methods Two groups of untrained volunteers completed an aerobic training program of 12 wk, 3 sessions a week: one group (n = 15) in an urban and another group (n = 9) in a rural environment. Ultrafine PM (UFPM) concentrations were measured during each training session. Aerobic fitness (Cooper test), BDNF serum levels, blood total and differential leukocyte counts, exhaled nitric oxide levels, and cognitive performance (Stroop task, Operation Span, and Psychomotor Vigilance task) were analyzed before and after the program.

Results UFPM concentrations were significantly higher in the urban environment compared with the rural environment (P = 0.006). Fitness levels improved equally (P < 0.0001) in both groups. Leukocyte counts (P = 0.02), neutrophil counts (P = 0.04), and exhaled nitric oxide levels (P = 0.002) increased after training in the urban group, whereas these parameters did not change in the rural group. The changes in these markers’ levels after training showed a positive correlation with the personal average UFPM exposure during training. Reaction times on the Stroop task improved in the rural group (P = 0.001), but not in the urban group. No effects were found on BDNF levels, Operation Span, and Psychomotor Vigilance test performances.

Conclusion Aerobic training in an urban environment with high traffic-related air pollution increased inflammatory biomarkers, and, in contrast to aerobic training in a rural environment, cognitive performance on the Stroop task did not improve.

Supplemental digital content is available in the text.

1Environmental Risk and Health, Flemish Institute for Technological Research (VITO), Mol, BELGIUM; 2Human Physiology and Sports Medicine, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, BELGIUM; 3Centre for Environmental Sciences (CMK), Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, BELGIUM; 4Vital Signs and Performance Monitoring (VIPER) Research Unit, Royal Military Academy, Brussels, BELGIUM; and 5Transportation Research Institute (IMOB), Hasselt University, Diepenbeek, BELGIUM

Address for correspondence: Romain Meeusen, Faculty of Physical Education and Physiotherapy, Department of Human Physiology and Sports Medicine, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium; E-mail:

Submitted for publication June 2012.

Accepted for publication October 2012.

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© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine