O'Connor lives in Philadelphia, which ranks No. 11 on the American Lung Association’s list of most polluted U.S. cities in terms of unhealthy levels of ozone. Emerging research suggests that simply breathing the air in big cities like Philly increases O'Connor’s risk of having additional heart problems and potentially compromises his recovery if he had a heart attack.
A September study by Harvard University epidemiologists found that the microscopic particles in polluted air can decrease the heart’s electrical functioning in people with serious coronary artery disease. Avoiding air pollution can reduce the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and other complications, especially in patients who are recovering after being hospitalized, according to Diane R. Gold, MD, the study's senior author and an associate professor of medicine and environmental health at Harvard.
In fact, air pollution plays a major role in the heart's health. Smoking is a well-documented culprit in heart disease, but a 2003 study by New York University researchers found that a nonsmoker living in a polluted city has about the same risk of dying of heart disease as a former smoker.