Does Air Quality Improve Cognitive Function?

Even if you don’t notice them, they’re there: pollutants. The air that we breathe is highly polluted. In fact, the indoors are worse than the outdoors. Just how bad is it? Well, according to the World Health Organization, 99% of the air we breathe contains high levels of pollutants. The WHO also states that about seven million people die prematurely each year, and it can be linked back to air pollution.  

Air pollution is caused by harmful gases, particles, and liquids that float in the air. These particles and their sources span a wide variety: cigarette smoke, wildfire smoke, pollen, dust, exhaust fumes, radon, carbon monoxide, cleaning products, furniture, mold, pets, and building materials. The list goes on and on.

Long-term exposure to polluted air harms your health. You’re at a high risk of respiratory complications such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, and lung cancer. 

Studies have even shown a connection between poor air quality and cognitive function. Constant exposure to polluted air can affect thinking capabilities, verbal conditions, and memory.

How Air Pollution Affects Cognitive Performance

First, what exactly are we talking about here? Cognitive functions are brain skills that enable you to perform activities. They include memory, learning, social cognition, attention, decision-making, and problem-solving.

High levels of air pollution have been linked to cognitive impairment in children, an increased risk of cognitive decline in adults, and even a possible link to depression. More specifically, here’s what science has found.

1. Reduced Productivity in Employee Performance

Harvard University conducted a study to show how office air quality affects employees' cognition and productivity. The researchers monitored different participants in offices across six countries and various work fields. The employees' workspaces were fitted with environmental sensors that measured air pollutants and humidity concentrations. The employees also had apps on their phones that could administer cognitive tests. 

The study found that an increase in particulate matter combined with poor ventilation contributed to slower response time and reduced accuracy levels in cognitive tests.

2. Hampered Brain Development in Young Children

Children are vulnerable to the dangers of air pollution. According to UNICEF, air pollution causes about 920,000 deaths of children under five every year. Since children are growing and their immune systems are not fully developed, inhaling toxic gases can harm their brain development. Exposure to particulate matter endangers their brains, leading to cognitive decline later in their lives. In addition, air pollution leads to reduced verbal and non-verbal IQ, memory tests, and poor grades in school.   

3. Poor Memory and Attention

Exposure to indoor air pollutants can affect memory and attention, leading to forgetfulness, difficulty recalling, and poor judgment. A study was done to investigate the effects of air pollutants on cognitive performance. Cognitive tests were done on 30 people in a room with candles burning to determine the relationship between poor air quality and cognitive function. 

The test results showed that increased particulate matter in the air resulted in a shorter attention span and an inability to recall. 

4. Decline in Thinking Capabilities in Aged People

Breathing high levels of polluted air is bad for your brain and increases the likelihood of dementia. Researchers conducted a study to show the link between air pollution and cognitive decline in older men. According to the study, older men who lived in areas with high air pollution had poor scores on math and verbal tests. Moreover, the study concluded that air pollution might increase the chances of Alzheimer's disease as people age.  

Another study showed that elderly women who live in areas with air improvements each year had better memory and brain functions than those who stay in regions with stable air conditions. 


4 Ways to Improve Your Indoor Air Quality

So, you now know that there’s a reason to care about the air you’re breathing in your home or office. Taking measures to improve the air quality can improve your brain functions and those of your loved ones. Here are a few simple tips.

1. Clean Your House Frequently

Pollutants can enter your house in many ways. Your pets can carry in pollen, dust, and even feces after a long walk, and air from outside carries pollutants easily trapped by surfaces in your house, like your clothes and bedding. 

Aim to wash your sheets once a week. Wipe down and disinfect surfaces and high-touch areas (like doorknobs) daily. Vacuum once a week, maybe even twice, if you have pets that shed. Regular cleaning goes a long way.

2. Control Humidity 

Mold grows in damp areas in your house. Use a dehumidifier (or a humidifier) to keep consistent humidity levels in your house — somewhere between 30% and 50%. You should also make it a habit to ventilate areas that experience a lot of moisture, like your bathrooms and laundry room.

3. Use an Air Purifier

Using an air purifier is one of the most effective and easy ways of cleaning polluted air in your house. Make sure that your purifier utilizes a medical-grade HEPA 13 filter that can capture all types of pollutants.

The Sans air purifier has a three-stage filtration process and UV-C light to ensure optimal air cleaning. Air first passes through the pre-filter, where large particles (like hair and dust) are trapped. The air will then go through the medical-grade HEPA 13 filter. This type of filter is capable of capturing even the most minute particles — 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns and 99.95% down to 0.1 microns. The air will then go through the activated carbon filter, which neutralizes harmful volatile organic compounds and other chemicals in the air. The UV-C light works on everything, ensuring nothing will grow on the filter and come back to pollute the air. Learn more about the Sans air purifier.

While we can’t completely control the air we breathe — especially the air outdoors — we can do something to breathe cleaner air inside. Reducing air pollution has many benefits. Not only will you enjoy good health but you could also improve your cognitive function.