Fitness Air Quality Monitor, is that possible?

Over the years, I have spoken with many companies in the field of air quality and once in a while, companies will tell me that they want athletes to purchase their devices in order to improve performance. I am always skeptical about this because I haven’t seen any integration of fitness data with the AQ monitors so far that could give some possible adverts or ways for the athlete to improve their performance. You don’t expect people to make assumptions you have to give them results and guide them in the right direction.

During covid-19 lockdown, I worked out at home and as I have access to a lot of data (fitness and air quality) I decided to make some experiments and see how my body reacts to poor indoor air quality and good indoor air quality and if the whole hypothesis works.

Smartwatches are very common these day and all of them feature a heart rate monitor and many more sensors. Recently, Apple and Fitbit released pulse oximeter sensors in their latest wearables. These new sensors in the smartwatches could unlock many more potentials and provide us with data that could save lives.

Let’s continue with the argument of what current AQMs could do if they combine fitness data. First of all, there is a possible problem. In case the monitor is stationary then it won’t be able to tell if the user was near the device or not during the workout session but this could be addressed as most times fitness data come along with GPS coordinates. By allowing the device to access the location data only when the user is in the same location as the AQM (home, gym, etc.) we solve the issue. Another possible solution is if the monitor comes with a Bluetooth/Ultra Wideband chip then it can easily sense the presence of the athlete/individual.

What AQ data are important?

The air quality monitor/app could correlate Carbon Dioxide (CO2) measurements with heart rate data. That way, it could warn the user in real-time that fresh air is needed. Of course, already AQMs can notify you about increasing concentrations of CO2 but they are not aware of the reason. Physical exercises demand a lot of litres of air and athletes breathe around 14,400 litres of air in a one-hour session. Later on, the device could present some data to the user telling him/her that during that time his/her heart had to work harder in order to pump blood around the body and supply oxygen the muscles, it could have provided the body with enough oxygen with fewer pulse per minutes. Trust me, athletes will love that because it could allow them to push harder when they need to break a new record.

air quality fitness

A correlation between the particulate matter sensor and the heart rate sensor will reveal heart morbidity risks. In a resent study, scientists found association of fine particulate matter and risk of stroke in patients with Atrial Fibrillation. It is well-studied the fact that there is a strong association between heart diseases and particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter smaller to 2.5μm (PM2.5).

Many epidemiological, biomedical, and clinical studies indicate that ambient particulate matter is strongly correlated with increased cardiovascular disease like myocardial infarction, cardiac arrhythmias, vascular dysfunction, ischemic stroke, hypertension, and atherosclerosis.

That way, AQ monitors could keep track of the health impact the pollutant has on the user’s heart. In this case, it could be an elite athlete but also a senior citizen whose health may need extra care and monitoring, as a result, people will increasingly make lifestyle choices based on air quality.

In addiction, if the spatial coverage in a city is dense enough with outdoor air quality monitors, then the same logic could apply later on by merging the external data with your personal fitness data.

iPhone Xs Mockup Fitness air quality
Mockup: Feedback users could get once data are analysed by Machine Learning (ML).

Conclusion

I believe this technology could easily be implemented with today’s means and knowledge as the scientific literature has studied very well the effects of pollution on human health and could support the logic behind it. It is time to move from theory to practice and do something better with the data we collect.

What’s your opinion? Should companies invest in creating such monitors/app?

5 thoughts on “Fitness Air Quality Monitor, is that possible?

  1. Good article.

    I have two indoor places that I workout. A gym on the LL for weights and floor and a small room in our attic for bicycling (road bike on a TACX Neo). I currently have AQ monitors in both. A Urad A3 in the gym and an IQAir in the attic.

    Where I notice AQ the most is riding my bicycle. CO2 varies considerably and I’m not sure why. Some workouts it peaks around 900ppm and some closer to 1800. For a while I had the IQAir facing me so that I could see the readings. A bit ago I turned it around to see how well I could predict the readings based on how I felt and so far I’ve been pretty accurate. Usually within about 100ppm. Higher CO2 results in my being more winded, more headachy feeling and poorer performance. Sometimes I will also feel lightheaded with very high CO2 levels.

    So, lower CO2 will allow me to produce a more robust workout and thus increase my fitness more than a lessor workout caused by high CO2.

    When I raced bicycles we would sometimes do altitude training. This was somewhat the opposite. We intentionally trained at altitude for a brief period knowing that our workouts would be less beneficial. HOWEVER, this caused our blood to take on more oxygen so that when we returned to lower altitude for a race we’d have more oxygen in our blood and thus better performance. Some athletes would take some of this high oxygen blood and store it to be re-injected later. Blood doping – which was illegal and unfair to the riders who were honest and didn’t dope.

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    • Very interesting story. Indeed, avoid placing the monitors near you or keep them on your back that way the readings are more accurate.

      I have noticed the same thing when I work out in a not ventilated room. So we can clearly see how important is for athletes a well ventilated room.

      You know, training in high altitude is not the same as being in a room full of CO2. In high altitudes you don’t have the same concentrations of oxygen (O2) as in sea level and obviously the CO2 concentrations are not above 450ppm. Your body can increase the respiration rates to get enough O2 but when you are in a room full of CO2 you burn yourself.

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  2. Somewhat related to this is CO2 levels in saunas. Saunas have the potential for extremely high levels of CO2 due to the number of people in a small confined space. In Europe it is customary to insure somewhat good ventilation. Typically by the door being cut short to allow a gap to the floor (10cm / 4″) to allow fresh air to enter and a vent located in or near the ceiling in the opposite corner. What levels of CO2 this results in I do not know but certainly better than no ventilation.

    Many saunas in the US have little or no venting. Fortunately this is changing, but very slowly.

    Interestingly, outside of the US Tylo/Helo recommend good ventilation: https://www.tylohelo.com/sauna-room-ventilation. Both of these should work fairly well.

    For the US they recommend a fresh air intake below the heater along with an exhaust vent below the benches. Why this is different from what they recommend elsewhere I do not know. However, this would seem to be a very poor recommendation. I would guesstimate that the majority of the fresh air is going to flow directly across the floor and exit through the exhaust vent without providing any fresh air higher up where people are breathing and producing CO2. Correct?

    However, I believe CO2 is heavier at higher temps? So in the higher temps of a sauna would CO2 naturally fall more so than at room temp? Enough to keep levels where people are breathing to something healthy?

    If we close our exhaust vent (we have a 4″ gap below our door and a vent in the ceiling in the opposite corner) we can definitely notice a significant change in ‘stuffiness’ of the air (with identical temps of 90°c and humidity). Overall we are much less comfortable in the sauna than when the vent is closed.

    Related, what is happening to O2 in a sauna?

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    • I think a smart ventilation system is needed. This system will ventilate the air inside the sauna every 10-min depending the size of the room and the occupancy rate. That way the sauna will be energy efficient and people won’t get dizzy from the high CO2 concentrations.

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  3. Another data point… In order to measure CO2 in our sauna I’ve a Gaslab M501+ CO2 meter which is a bit more accurate and faster responding than the IQAir (and according to the mfr will actually work up to about 98°c even though technically only good to 50°c). What I’ve learned is that it’s not unusual for there to be periods where CO2 is 400-600ppm higher than the IQAir indicates.

    With a stable level of CO2 they will be similar (within 50ppm) but the IQAir is much slower to change so if for instance if CO2 rises quickly from 600 to 1400 (according to M501) and remains there the IQAir will slowly rise and take about 30-40 minutes to get up to 1400.

    If instead of staying at 1400 it only remains there for 15 minutes then the IQAir will never indicate more than about 900 while the M501 will show that it rose to 1400 for 15 minutes and then dropped.

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