When is the best time to Exercise Outdoors in Athens, Greece?

Well, in winter and early spring never, period! If you are thinking of running or even walking in the center of Athens in Aristotelous street and around then prepare yourself to breathe a lot of pollution.

There is an official air quality station there and I pulled all available data for local statistical analysis from the European server (GR0003A). Unfortunately, 2019 nor 2020 measurements are available to the public yet, maybe in a decade, they will share the data for the Greeks to read. (Τι κάνεις έλληνα και δεν παραπονιέσαι για τον αέρα που αναπνέεις;).

Air Quality Station on top of the building Aristotelous street, Athens

Every winter the air quality all around Greece is poorer than the economy but the problem here is not so much the economic situation of the country but the fact that a lot of people don’t know anything about the air quality/air pollution.

Greeks like to burn wood to heat their sweet homes “very cozy” but not in the same way other people do in the rest of the world by using high efficiency certified wood-burning stove (although they shouldn’t burn biomass in any way), instead, they burn all kind of wood (wet or dry, olive wood, oak wood, industrial wood pallets, etc). Huge plumes of air pollution are distributed all around the cities and villages full of carcinogenic particles and toxic fumes as most of the time the biomass isn’t burnt correctly.

PM2.5 Aristotelous Street

Above, we can see that PM2.5 concentrations are above the recommended values set by WHO at 10μg/m3. Winter and early spring months are the worst, and if you believe that you will close the windows and pollution won’t enter your house you are very mistaken. It is inevitable not to breathe polluted air. According to a recent scientific study, each 1 μg/m3 increase in short term PM2.5 was associated with an annual increase of 2050 hospital admissions.

Let’s make something clear (apart from the air), air pollution especially PM2.5, can reach every main organ in your body; lungs, heart, brain, so don’t be surprised when diseased like dementia, heart attacks, and asthma increase in Greece.

PM10 Aristotelous Street

PM10 concentrations are even higher, which indicate us that there are a lot of burning fireplaces (Τζάκια) in Greece. Regulations are needed as we suffocate ourselves because we are not conscious of our actions.

via US EPA
WHO Guidelines for Particulate Matter

For those who don’t know what is PM2.5 and PM10, here is a brief explanation.

Particulate Matter (PM) are solids material (sometimes liquid too) that float in the air. Some PM is released directly from a specific source − combustion in Diesel engines, fireplaces − while others form in complicated chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

Particles in the PM2.5 size range can travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Studies also suggest that long term exposure to fine particulate matter may be associated with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and increased mortality from lung cancer, and heart disease.

What about Summer then?

The AQ station registers lower PM2.5 and PM10 concentrations during summer and early autumn so I can walk and exercise in Athens, well don’t run so fast. Again, according to official data you can’t, well, you shouldn’t for your health. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Nitrogen Oxides (NO) concentrations are all years round super high due to traffic and combustion engines (motorbikes, taxis, private cars, buses, lorries, etc).

WHO Guidelines for Nitrogen Dioxide
NO & NO2 Aristotelous Street

Conclusion

I am sorry, I have only bad news but deep down you knew it, the official data just confirmed your suspicions. It is time to change how you think, how you commute, and how you heat your household and your family, there are many alternative sustainable solutions. If you need help, I am here for you.

Apparently, people don’t breathe air in Crete or south Peloponnese or west Central Greece or the Greek Islands or North Greece, or at least they don’t know what they breathe. There are only 19 AQ Stations across Greece and most of them in Athens.

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