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Sep 13, 2021
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Air pollution in the office quickly impairs the ability to think and concentrate

Polluted air from the street enters the premises. Often it is there that he most long-term affects people. It is known that the degree of its effect is related to how the rooms are ventilated and whether the air is filtered in them. Previous studies have shown that high concentrations of small particles (less than 2.5 microns in diameter – PM2.5) can have a bad effect on the central nervous system and contribute to the development of dementia in the elderly.

In a new study, researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined how air pollution in offices affects the thinking and concentration of the people who work in them.

Scientists observed 300 office workers in six countries. The participants were between 18 and 65 years old, they worked at least three days a week, each had a permanent place in the office. The workplace of each person was equipped with sensors that recorded in real time the air pollution with PM2.5 particles, the concentration of carbon dioxide, the temperature and humidity of the air. In scientific work, carbon dioxide has been a marker of the quality of room ventilation.

All the participants also had an application on their phones, with which they periodically passed cognitive tests, assessing the speed of thinking, ability to focus and the state of working memory.

  • If it is known for certain that the air pollution is in excess of acceptable standards, N95 respirators can be used. Before that, you need to learn how to use them correctly.
  • Use your bike and walk more often. At the same time, try to bypass or bypass major roads and other sources of pollution. Using maps that show the state of the air in the city in real time will make this task easier.
  • When using the machine, you need to close the windows, use a filtered air ventilation system.
  • Physical activity counteracts the effects of dirty air. Exercise outdoors is best done as far away from pollution sources as possible.
  • At home, you should use ovens that run on gas or electricity for cooking. The kitchen must be well ventilated.
  • Air purifiers with HEPA filters can be used for rooms. This recommendation is relevant for people who are especially susceptible to the action of dirty air.
  • Existing diseases of the respiratory system must be kept under control (taking medications on time, getting vaccinated against the flu, and so on).
  • To alleviate the effect of dirty air on the lungs and heart, it is necessary to take preventive measures, for example, maintain a normal weight and physical activity, and do not smoke.
  • The diet should be balanced, contain fruits and vegetables.

A source

The study found that thinking speed and ability to concentrate slowed when PM2.5 and carbon dioxide concentrations increased. The participants’ working memory was influenced only by carbon dioxide indicators. As both metrics increased, the participants performed slower and worse on the tests.

Lead author Joseph Allen noted that indoor ventilation and filtration are currently a hot topic in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the expert, new research highlights the importance of air purification in maintaining the cognitive abilities and productivity of workers.

“The data show that an increase in PM2.5 levels is associated with an acute decline in cognitive function. For the first time, we have been able to find such a short-term effect on young people. The study also confirmed how low ventilation affects cognitive function, ”said Guillermo Cedeño Laurent, co-author of the study. Poor indoor air quality affects health and productivity more than previously thought, Laurent said.


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