The Air Quality Index, or AQI, is a rating of how clean the air is. It is issued by the Ministry of the Environment, which monitors our air quality every day. The AQI evaluates the various air pollutants (e.g., carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, particles that can be inhaled) on a scale of 0 to 120. Higher numbers mean higher health risks.
Another index of air quality, called the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), is a tool that was created to help people understand what the air quality means to their health. It is calculated based on the risks that the pollutants ozone, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxide have on health. It is reported on a scale of 1 to 10+:
- 1–3: low health risk
- 4–6: moderate health risk
- 7–10: high health risk
- 10+: very high health risk
The AQHI also provides information on how you can modify your activity level when air quality is poor and on how you can improve air quality. For more information about AQHI, go to Environment Canada's website.
How does air quality affect your health?
Poor air quality is harmful to both your lungs and your heart. It aggravates heart problems, bronchitis, asthma, and other lung problems. Seniors are also at higher risk not only because of their age and their generally weaker heart, lungs, and immune system, but also because seniors are more likely to have a pre-existing health condition.
Protect yourself and others
You may think that there is nothing you can do about the air you breathe. However, there are easy ways to protect yourself and your air quality:
- Listen to air quality forecasts and consider ways to modify daily activities accordingly (e.g., car pool, take transit, work from home, group errands together).
- Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated, especially before, during, and after exercise.
- Consider exercising indoors in a smoke-free, air-conditioned environment if the AQHI in your area is 4 or higher.
- Drive less, and instead, carpool, ride a bike, walk, or use transit. If we all do our part, we can improve the air quality for everyone.
- Protect those at higher risk of health problems by paying special attention to children, seniors, those with lung problems (such as people with asthma), those with heart problems, and those who work outdoors.
Written and reviewed by the MediResource Clinical Team