Where you exercise is just as important for brain health as exercise itself.

That’s the conclusion of a study released Wednesday by researchers at USC and the University of Arizona, which found that vigorous exercise in a highly polluted area can diminish the positive brain benefits of exercise.

“We found that, while vigorous physical activity was good for brain health, exposure to air pollution seemed to mute some of these benefits,” USC professor and study co-author David Raichlen said in a statement. “For example, vigorous physical activity reduced white matter lesions, a key marker of brain health, but these benefits were eliminated in areas with high air pollution.

“We’re not recommending we avoid all exercise in air pollution. But, since increased white matter lesions are a risk for stroke and Alzheimer’s disease, we do think we should put more thought into where we exercise, and, for example, avoid areas that are close to vehicle traffic.”

According to the study, researchers did not find evidence of physical activity in these areas contributing to poor brain health, only that the presence of air pollution diminished the benefits of physical activity for some aspects of brain health.

Melissa Furlong, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, said Los Angeles is typical of areas that can have air pollution detrimental to the benefits of exercise.

“Cities like Los Angeles or New York have air pollution levels within the ranges we tested in this study,” she said. “In fact, the amount of air pollution we looked at in this study is well within the normal ranges of air pollution for even cities most people would consider `healthy.”’

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