Wildfires are raging in the western United States, destroying homes and burning over a million acres of land. But it’s not just the western states that have been impacted by heavy smoke brought on by the fires. People in Indiana and the Midwest are experiencing hazier skies as the smoke from western wildfires has moved into the air and is impacting our health, prompting Air Quality Action Days to be issued. Indiana University’s Jonathan Raff, an expert in atmospheric and environmental chemistry, says the wildfires inject massive amounts of smoke high into the atmosphere, and the smoke and particles from the fires are then carried into the air currents, which the jet stream carries east. Many have noticed a red color to sunsets and the moon in recent days. Raff says that’s because these tiny particles efficiently scatter the blue light from the sun and allow the warmer colors to pass through the atmosphere to our eyes. High concentrations of this particulate matter in the air can cause health issues too, particularly for people with cardiovascular problems or asthma, Raff says, and long-term exposure to high concentrations of particulate matter have been linked to cancer and reduced life expectancy. He expects the Midwest will continue to experience fire-induced air quality issues as climate change worsens. In 2021, Raff says we can likely expect air quality issues to persist through November, depending on both the intensity of the fires and weather patterns.
In other news, as many people tune into the Olympics, they may find themselves inspired to take on a new sport or exercise. Jack Raglin, an exercise and sports scientist at IU, says there are lots of benefits to being more physically active, including strengthening long-neglected muscles. But how can people stay motivated to continue a new exercise regimen? Raglin says bonding with a community of people you exercise with, perhaps at a gym or a climbing wall, can make you more committed to a particular workout. A sense of belonging can increase self-esteem and cement a person’s identity within that group of people. This can help turn exercising into a healthy habit, which Raglin says changes a person’s whole reason for exercising – it becomes less about fitness or skill-building and more about wanting to share in an experience with friends. Exercising with a spouse or partner may also make someone more committed to sticking with a particular workout. Married couples who exercise together are far more likely to continue an exercise program than married people who participate alone, Raglin says. Once a person has mastered a new exercise, Raglin says they may find themselves gaining confidence in trying new activities, which can open that person up to a whole new world of possibilities.