Health effects of physical activity as predicted by particle deposition in the human respiratory tract

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Mar 20;657:819-826. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.12.067. Epub 2018 Dec 7.


Although health benefits of physical activity are well known, the risk of physical activity in polluted air is unclear. Our objective is to investigate health effects resulting from physical activity in polluted air by looking at particle deposition in human tracheobronchial (TB) airways. Airflow and particle deposition in TB airways were investigated using a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) method. We chose three regional airways: upper (G3-G5), central (G9-G11) and lower (G14-G16). Physical activity was described by breathing rate at the mouth, for three levels of activity: sedentary (15 l/min), moderate (30 l/min) and intense (60 l/min). We found that particle deposition was strongly affected by physical activity. Particles are deposited in greater number in the lower airways (G14-G16) during sedentary activity, more in the upper airways (G3-G5) during intense activity, and uniformly in the airways during moderate activity. The difference in the deposition pattern was due to the reason that physical activity increased the airflow which increased inertial impaction. Our modeling of particle deposition in the human respiratory airways shows that there are different health effects for different activity levels: sedentary activity leads to chronic health effects, intense activity results in acute effects, and moderate activity minimizes the adverse health effects of physical activity in polluted air.

Keywords: Air pollution; Computational fluid dynamics (CFD); Health; Particle deposition; Particulate matters; Physical activity.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollutants / chemistry
  • Computer Simulation
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Models, Biological*
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • Respiratory System / drug effects*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter