When looking at the picture I have of myself on top of the mirador of the Palacio de Comunciaciones in downtown Madrid (visit! It’s pretty!), most people say things like “wow, you are so lucky to live in such a pretty place!” My friend who studies environmental issues, however, pointed to the skyline and said, “look, photochemical smog.”
Air pollution is a part of life in Madrid, and it is made worse by the chronic lack-of-rain here. Yes, we have those beautiful blue skies, but sometimes our atmosphere (and our streets) need the cleaning that a good downpour can bring. While some reports from local government state that air quality is better than a decade ago, people with asthma and who spend lots of time outside biking or running can note that they encounter air that is less than pristine.
Whether it is because of weather or because standards for Madrid’s air pollution are not up to par, you should know that when you come to Madrid, for the first time, you may encounter a place lacking in fresh air. There are ways to escape or at least make the smog less present in your life in Madrid, and you don’t even have to wear a face mask, though some people here still wear them while biking or riding the metro.
1. Spend time in Parque del Buen Retiro, which is large enough and far enough from streets to have significantly different air quality than the surrounding streets. This has the added benefit of being a beautiful place to spend time and exercise, and you are less likely to end up wheezing at the end of your afternoon.
2. Speaking of running, if you can’t make it to Retiro, try doing your running in a gym; runners take in much more air than a person at rest, which means that during your outdoor run you are taking in many more pollutants, which isn’t good for your fitness at all.
3. Choose your outdoor paths to avoid highly-trafficked roads. The worst air pollution is, predictably, near high-traffic roads, and so you can use your commute to find a less-travelled path to wherever you need to go.
4. If you must be out and about, shoot for early morning. An early morning run is slightly less problematic for your lungs because of the ways pollutants circulate during the day.
For more information about air quality, including a map that shows up-to-date air quality around the city, visit http://www.mambiente.munimadrid.es/svca/index.php