In recent years, there’s been a growing global awareness of the need to embrace a healthier lifestyle. This is undoubtedly a good thing.
Better health translates to fewer serious medical issues and, consequently, lower healthcare expenses over your lifetime. And in the modern era, average life expectancy has increased considerably. Staying healthy means you get to enjoy a higher quality of life during that timespan.
Yet focus on the self can sometimes be myopic. Certainly, there are products you can buy or places you can go to raise your level of health and wellness. But what is the environmental cost of such practices?
The environment plays a critical role as one of the determinants of health. And we can never be isolated from its influence. Going vegan or hitting the gym for hours each week will not negate the effects of living in a polluted city.
Healthy living must be practiced while considering the overall context. So how can you do that and contribute to saving the environment?
Turn daily activities into exercise
We know that single-use plastics are bad for the environment, and using recycled grocery bags is a simple and effective adjustment. But what if you also made a point of walking instead of taking the car whenever you go on a supply run?
At a comfortable walking speed of around 4 km/hr, an individual weighing 68 kg will burn 105 calories in 30 minutes. Ramp up the intensity, and the body’s walking motion becomes less efficient. A brisk pace of 10 km/hr will burn 370 calories in the same period of time.
This is actually more energy consumed than running or cycling at a leisurely pace. For short distances, such as hitting the neighborhood store, a brisk walk is a perfect way to burn calories instead of fossil fuel.
Granted, longer distances may be impractical to cover on foot, and we don’t always have the time on a busy day. You can still mix in cycling at high intensity, or you can drive and park the car some distance away. Every bit of exercise counts, and you still reduce your emissions even if not eliminating them.
Changing food consumption
How much agricultural land does it take to grow enough food to meet a single person’s energy requirements?
The answer will depend on many factors. These include climate, available sunlight, farming techniques and machinery used, and the individual’s dietary preferences in question. But a reasonable estimate would be 1200 square meters, the size of an Olympic swimming pool.
Based on land ownership alone, most of us can’t afford to grow enough food to be self-sustaining. We don’t have the requisite skill or equipment to maximize yields.
That doesn’t make it futile to grow some of your own food. Herbs can be grown in planters by the window. Some crops, such as tomatoes, can be grown in a garden with little skill or effort.
Having some fresh produce available all the time at home means you’ve already overcome one barrier to healthy living: an excuse not to prepare home-cooked meals. Even on a small scale, growing crops in your yard can save money and cut down on trips made to the supermarket.
Likewise, you can change your proportion of consumption to emphasize more plant-based proteins instead of animal meat. Cattle grazing notoriously contributes to the overall impact of agriculture on climate change. Without going vegan, you can trim down on beef and still observe a nutritious diet.
Tend gardens, not lawns
The typical suburban lawn is a miniature ecological disaster. It’s a plant monoculture, which is detrimental to soil quality and water retention. Turf cover is typically high-maintenance and vulnerable to disease and pests, thus requiring chemicals, fertilizer, plenty of water, and even gasoline for mowing.
Pick up gardening as a hobby instead, and learn to transform your yard into a green space that’s beautiful to the eye and beneficial to the environment. Two trends that have been growing in popularity are raising native plants and maintaining pollinator-friendly gardens.
Native plants are hardy and low-maintenance. Cultivating multiple types of native flowers requires less effort, improves diversity, and makes the yard more inviting to bees, birds, and other pollinators.
At the same time, gardening is a highly physical activity. It incorporates a wider range of movements than what we usually engage in.
Standing, sitting, and walking comprise the majority of activities in a sedentary lifestyle. Gardening makes you stoop, squat, dig, lift, reach, and maybe even climb. It’s a natural movement workout in service to the environment.
Start with these small changes, and continue to explore how healthy living and saving the environment can overlap.