By Dr Vishnuvardhan Reddy Meedimale
Out of the top 10 most polluted cities in the world, seven are in India, with Gurugram having the worst air quality, as per the data released by IQAir AirVisual and Greenpeace. Pollution and poisonous air adversely impact the health of millions of children around the world, leading to severe damage to their brains and causing several thousands of deaths, according to the latest report published by the World Health Organization. The WHO study found that of all the people in the world, air pollution affects children the worst since pollutants are more often concentrated near the ground.
Effects of air pollution on children
“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected,” said Dr Maria Neira, the WHO director of public health and environment at a global conference on air pollution and health, held in Geneva. The report published by the World Health Organization reveals that India witnessed the deaths of 60,987 children under the age of five years in the year 2016. Of these deaths, girl children were more prone to die of pollution, with 32,889 girl children dying of the cause as compared to 28,097 boys. The WHO report takes a look at both household and ambient pollution and its impact on children’s health. Pregnant women exposed to air pollution are more likely to give premature births, leading to lower levels of immunity in their children.
Children in low and moderate income countries such as India, China and Japan are most affected by air pollution, according to a new report published by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Continued exposure to exceeding levels of air pollution can lead to a reduction in the development and growth of a child, as well as a reduction in the maximal functional capacities of their bodies, leading to enhanced susceptibility to infections and diseases in their adult lives.
The following breathing exercises can help children cope with air pollution and improve their health and powers of concentration at the same time:
Hot Air Balloon
Sit in a comfortable position with your legs crossed. Start by cupping your hands around your mouth and breathe deeply through your nose. As you are doing this, start blowing out through your mouth, all the while moving your hands outwards in coordination with your exhalation. This process must be undertaken as if you are trying to inflate an enormous hot air balloon.
Once you have completely exhaled, imagine that your hot air balloon is completely inflated and that you have let it loose to rise up in the sky. Breathe normally as you sway from side to side.
Make sure that this exercise is performed in a clean, pollution-free environment. It helps your child to take deep, cleansing breaths as well as increase his/her concentration. Performed regularly over a longer period of time, this exercise helps your child cleanse his/her body of the pollution that enters his/her body throughout the day.
Assume a cross-legged position, pointing the index fingers of both hands towards each other. Position these mutually pointing fingers in front of your mouth and start blowing air through the mouth, while spinning your fingers around each other, creating a sound much like the tumble dry cycle in a washing machine.
Bumble Bee Breaths
Also known as Bhramari in Pranayama, this breathing exercise helps your child cleanse his/her body of the pollution that he/she comes across every single day. Sit comfortably with your legs crossed, while breathing through your nose. With your fingers in your ears, hum out your exhalation. Not only does this exercise help in eliminating the ill effects of pollution from your child’s body over a long time, but also has a calming effect on your child’s being.
(The writer is Consultant Neonatal & Pediatric Intensivist, Apollo Cradle, Kondapur, Hyderabad.)