Health Effect of Climate Change

JC is doing an online course with Harvard’s extended online degrees called ‘Health Effects of Climate Change’. As we are in Spring in the Southern hemisphere, I see it as timely as we experience our seasons are changing dramatically. In Victoria we have experienced seasonal changes where usually spring is still cool we’ve had hot weather, fires, floods and then plunge back into cold – this is not how we remember our childhood springs – enjoy JC’s article.

The climate in here is so hot, even our treadmills are sweating. Must be climate change – your workout is on fire!” 😄🔥.  Seriously though, since we are experiencing changes in our climate, greater fires, bigger rains, it has been on the back of my mind especially growing up surrounded by big trees at Lake Tahoe. So, I decide to take a course on ‘Health Effects of Climate Change’ through Harvard’s extended online degrees. 
Climate change has a wider range of health effects that impact us as individuals, and communities in various ways. These health effects are often indirect and can result from a complex interplay of environmental, social, and economic factors. One unfortunate example is with the recent events and the flash flood in Libya.

  1. Heat-Related Illnesses: Rising temperatures can lead to an increase in heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Vulnerable populations, including the elderly, children, and individuals with pre-existing health conditions, are at greater risk.
  2. Respiratory Problems: Climate change can worsen air quality by increasing the concentration of pollutants like ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. This can exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma and allergies and lead to more respiratory-related hospitalizations.
  3. Vector-Borne Diseases: Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns can expand the geographic range of disease-carrying vectors such as mosquitoes and ticks. This can lead to the spread of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and Lyme disease to new areas.
  4. Waterborne Diseases: Increased temperatures and altered precipitation patterns can affect water quality and the distribution of pathogens in water sources. This can lead to an increased risk of waterborne diseases like cholera and diarrhea.
  5. Food Insecurity: Climate change can disrupt food production, reduce crop yields, and impact the availability and nutritional quality of food. Food insecurity can lead to malnutrition and related health problems.
  6. Mental Health Impacts: Climate change can result in extreme weather events, natural disasters, and displacement of communities, which can cause psychological distress, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  7. Infectious Disease Spread: Changes in climate can affect the ecology and distribution of infectious diseases. This includes the potential for the emergence of new infectious diseases and the alteration of disease transmission patterns.
  8. Cardiovascular Problems: Extreme heat and air pollution can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes.
  9. Vulnerable Populations: Vulnerable populations such as low-income communities, marginalized groups, and those with limited access to healthcare are disproportionately affected by the health impacts of climate change.
  10. Forced Migration: Climate change-induced disasters, such as hurricanes and sea-level rise, can displace communities and result in health challenges for displaced populations, including inadequate access to healthcare and sanitation.
  11. Water Scarcity: Droughts and changes in precipitation patterns can lead to water scarcity, affecting hygiene and sanitation, which in turn can lead to a higher incidence of water-related diseases.

Increased heat, and air pollution, can indeed contribute to the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and asthma and it’s important to take steps to protect your health and fitness in such conditions. Some recommendations are:

  1. Monitor Air Quality: Stay informed about local air quality levels. Many areas provide real-time air quality reports through websites and apps. Avoid outdoor activities, including going to the gym, when air quality is poor.
  2. Choose Off-Peak Hours: If you decide to go to the gym, try to go during off-peak hours when the air quality may be better. Mornings or late evenings are often cooler and have lower pollution levels.
  3. Indoor Workouts: Consider indoor exercise options on days with poor air quality. Gyms with proper air filtration systems can provide a more controlled environment.
  4. Modify Exercise Intensity: When exercising outdoors in hot and polluted conditions, reduce the intensity and duration of your workout. Listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard.
  5. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water, especially when it’s hot. Dehydration can increase the strain on your cardiovascular system.
  6. Use Protective Gear: If you must exercise outdoors in polluted areas, wear a mask designed to filter out pollutants. It won’t filter out all particles, but it can help reduce exposure.
  7. Diversify Your Exercise Routine: Incorporate a variety of physical activities into your routine. This can include indoor workouts, swimming, yoga, or other exercises that are less affected by outdoor conditions.
  8. Consult a Healthcare Professional: If you have existing cardiovascular conditions or respiratory issues, consult with a healthcare professional before engaging in vigorous physical activity in challenging environmental conditions.
  9. Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, managing stress, and getting adequate sleep. These factors can help mitigate the overall risk of cardiovascular diseases.
  10. Advocate for Cleaner Air: Support policies and initiatives that aim to reduce air pollution and combat climate change. Cleaner air benefits everyone’s health.

Remember that the combination of heat and air pollution can be especially harmful to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and individuals with pre-existing health conditions. It’s crucial to prioritize your health and take precautions to minimize your risk. If you’re concerned about exercising in your local environment, consult with a healthcare professional or a fitness trainer for personalized advice on how to maintain your fitness while minimizing health risks.
It is also important to note that these health effects are interconnected and can have cascading impacts on you, your family, on public health systems and infrastructure. Mitigating and adapting to climate change are crucial not only for protecting the environment but also for safeguarding human health and well-being. Public health strategies, policies, and international cooperation are essential components of addressing these health challenges in the face of climate change.

Luschkova D, Ludwig A, Traidl-Hoffmann C. Klimakrise und deren Auswirkungen auf die menschliche Gesundheit [Climate crisis and its impact on human health]. Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 2021 Dec;146(24-25):1636-1641. German. doi: 10.1055/a-1560-7520. Epub 2021 Dec 8. PMID: 34879414.
Franchini M, Mannucci PM. Impact on human health of climate changes. Eur J Intern Med. 2015 Jan;26(1):1-5. doi: 10.1016/j.ejim.2014.12.008. Epub 2015 Jan 10. PMID: 25582074.
Patz JA, Grabow ML, Limaye VS. When it rains, it pours: future climate extremes and health. Ann Glob Health. 2014 Jul-Aug;80(4):332-44. doi: 10.1016/j.aogh.2014.09.007. Epub 2014 Nov 25. PMID: 25459335; PMCID: PMC6098711.

One thought on “Health Effect of Climate Change

  1. Hi JC,

    Nice to see your continuing. Your advanced education. That some thing that I’ve done my whole life, I think. I appreciated your article as it brings a lot of factors I thought about in respect climate change, and exercise altogether succinctly.

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