Open Air Factor – the free and simple life extender

Want to live forever but you’re short of time and money to invest in your immortality? Well here are a couple of free and simple tips for staying healthy long enough for medical technology to catch up with biological aging. Pull back those curtains (or raise those blinds) and open the windows – plenty of fresh air and sunlight kills more bugs than a deep clean.

To you and me, it seems obvious that a good dose of fresh air clears out the lungs and must have health benefits. To scientists they call this the Open Air Factor (OAF). It was first discovered at Porton Down – the UK military’s chemical and biological research centre. And for those interested the effect comes from hydroxyl radicals produced by the natural reaction of ozone and olefins in the air.

Even at extremely low concentrations these hydroxyl radicals are able to kill microorganisms suspended in the air. And that includes bacteria that get mixed up in the air when beds are made and curtains are drawn. In fact, one company produced a machine that produced the Open Air Factor and showed it reduced the bio-burden in the air by 80%. Unfortunately that company (Aerte , previously Inov8) has now gone bust – but I will be trying track down a similar system that could be used at home.

Open Air Factor

In addition, ultraviolet light has been shown to kill bacteria lurking on surfaces – with some hospitals utilising robots that UV disinfect rooms between patients. But UV is also present in sunlight – so as well as boosting vitamin D when it lands on your skin it’s also good for cleaning the home.

For the best results, at least do this in your bedroom. You spend about a third of your life in bed so make sure you’re benefiting from the natural disinfection characteristics of fresh air and sunlight. And it doesn’t cost a penny!

Air pollution – a significant killer

Last year Public Health England (a UK government body) published a report titled “Estimating Local Mortality Burdens associated with Particulate Air Pollution”- basically how many people die from illnesses causes by air pollution, broken down by region. Although individual deaths cannot be attributed to man-made particles in the air it attempts to determine how many deaths each year are caused by air pollution. And they came up with significant numbers.

Air pollution 3x more deaths

Remember, this isn’t just some academic public health issue, the flip side of deaths caused by air pollution is that some deaths can be avoided. The report assumes an average loss of 12 years per attributable death. And 12 years is a long time in the exponentially growing field of medical technology. Avoiding death by air pollution may not save you from aging, but another 12 years of life might keep you around long enough to benefit from new life saving drugs and procedures.

PHE found that the fraction of mortality attributable to long -term exposure to PM2.5 air pollution (that is, caused by man-made particles smaller than 2.5um) ranges from under 3% to over 8% – so living in a polluted city is three times as dangerous as living in the countryside.

Two plausible ways to reduce the harmful effects of air pollution would be to reduce air pollution or to reduce exposure. You can help reduce air pollution across the country by campaigning for cleaner air (for example join or finding a local group – there are surprising pollution hot spots even in quite rural areas. Then to reduce your own exposure (because option 1 is going to take some time to happen) consider masks, filtering air in your own home or even moving somewhere with lower pollution. Since reading this report I’ve already started job hunting outside of London to minimise the time I spend breathing killer air.

Here’s a small section of towns and cities through-out the UK – to see your own location the full table starts on page 10 of report –

Town or City Particle Concentration Attributable deaths Fraction of all deaths
London, including 12.7 3389 7.2 %
– Westminster 14.9 88 8.3 %
– Bromley 11.1 161 6.3 %
Newcastle upon Tyne 8.6 124 4.9 %
Northumberland 6.9 128 3.9 %
Manchester 10.4 219 5.9 %
Carlisle 6.7 43 3.8 %
Leeds 9.7 350 5.5%
Nottingham 11.4 150 6.4 %
Derbyshire Dales 8.2 33 4.7 %
Birmingham 11.4 520 6.4 %
Worcester 9.5 43 5.4 %
Cambridge 10.2 47 5.8 %
Ipswich 10.0 63 5.6 %
Reading 10.5 62 5.9 %
Southampton 11.1 110 6.2 %
Oxford 10.6 55 6.0 %
Bristol 10.2 196 5.8 %
Cornwall 6.7 221 3.8 %
Cardiff 9.5 143 5.4 %
Isle of Anglesey 5.5 26 3.2 %
Glasgow 8.3 306 4.7%
Aberdeenshire 5.6 70 3.2 %
Belfast 9.2 141 5.2%