fresh air

Since time out of mind we have believed in sunlight and fresh air as being in some way more healthy or restorative than indoor air. This belief undoubtedly is the product of the direct experience of uncounted generations. Or, to put it another way, it is true.

In olden times, all sorts of theories abounded about the ill effects of breathing indoor air. The fact is indisputable that respiratory diseases are most prevalent in the winter months, when people are forced to spend more time cooped up together, breathing each other's germs.

The reason behind this increase in illness is as follows: When one coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets of respiratory secretions are expelled into the air. They are laden with bacteria and infectious viral particles, among other things. The droplets rapidly evaporate, leaving microscopic bits of "dust" chock full of infectious spores. Indoors, the volume of air into which they are expelled is limited, and there is no wind to disperse them. And, as I will explain below, there is little sunlight indoors.

Along comes unsuspecting you, to breathe the now contaminated air. Into your respiratory system go the infectious particles. If you get a large enough dose of them, and you are not immune to the disease, you will likely succumb to infection yourself - and the cycle will continue.

When one is outside in the "fresh air," the situation is different in several aspects.

  • The volume of air into which sick people sneeze and cough is essentially infinite
  • There is circulation of that air so that any expelled particles are rapidly diluted
  • There is an additional key element - the sun's ultraviolet rays which rapidly degrade biologic proteins (that is, the bacteria and viruses). Outside air is basically sterile.

This last fact - that high intensity ultraviolet light kills germs - is used to good effect in hospitals, where indirect ultraviolet lamp air sterilizers are used in isolation rooms. They are effective enough to rid the air of tuberculosis germs, for example. Aquarium hobbyists use ultraviolet water sterilizers to keep sensitive salt-water aquarium fish healthy. Municipal water supplies in Europe often use ultraviolet light to disinfect drinking water.

So, is fresh air good for you? Well, barring air pollution or airborne allergens, it may be neither good nor bad, but you are certainly much less likely to get a respiratory infection while out breathing it. So one can, for example, take a young baby out in the fresh air (with appropriate sun shielding and screening of the skin!) and not worry much about him catching a respiratory disease.

Enjoy your walk with the baby!

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