It isn’t a secret that improving your health can have positive impacts on other areas of your life. However, one of the most significant influences health-conscious people can have is on the environment around them. It is clear that there are many ways in which we can help the environment and ourselves at the same time, these are the so-called ‘co-benefits’ of healthy living. [i][ii]
When I was in medical school, I began to realize that the symbiotic relationship between wellness and the environment is key to developing a healthy, eco-friendly society. Here, I investigate a few ways that you can help the environment and improve your health at the same time.
1. Use alternative or public transportation.
Alternative methods of transportation, such as walking or cycling, reduce fossil-fuel emissions and can improve your cardiovascular health.[iii] By choosing human-powered transport, you are reducing the amount of pollutants in the air we breathe, as well as decreasing your risk of heart attacks, strokes and type 2 diabetes. [iv]
Also, by using public transportation, you are encouraging your government to commit to large-scale public transportation projects and are helping to reduce the number of cars on the road. Additionally, by using public transport you are decreasing the amount of fuel-based irritants in the air, and may decrease your risk of developing respiratory illnesses such as asthma. [v]
2. Eat organically
By consciously choosing the food you consume, you prioritize both your health and the environment. Organic farms cause less environmental impact by decreasing the run-off of pesticides and herbicides in our water supply. More obviously, eating organically decreases the amount of chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones you consume on a daily basis. This allows your body to detoxify more efficiently, making you less likely to suffer the ill effects of unknown chemicals in non-organic food products.[vi]
3. Buy locally-grown food
Local farms are always an excellent choice for both the environment and your health. Growing foods locally means less fossil-fuel used in their transportation and processing.[vii] By choosing local food, you are also supporting farmers in your community and promoting local economic growth. Most importantly, the short distance from farm to fork means that the food can be picked at its peak ripeness and eaten fresh. Thus, local foods are packed with nutrients and vitamins that you may not get otherwise. [viii]
4. Go meat-free
Reducing consumption of meat, and in turn increasing the amount of vegetables in your diet, is incredibly beneficial for your health. Vegetarians reduce their risk of chronic heart disease and type 2 diabetes[ix], and increase their intake of fiber, potassium and calcium[x]. Additionally, a recent study has shown that vegetarians reduce their green house gas emissions by an average of 29%.[xi] If going vegetarian is too challenging, reducing meat consumption by eliminating meat one day a week (‘Meat-free Mondays’), can also offer health benefits ix, and reduce green house gas emissions by 22%. xi
5. Spend time outdoors
Making an effort to help your environment is much more rewarding when you can reap the benefits. From spending time out in your garden, to hiking through the forest, nature has the ability to restore and revitalize. Whether you prefer to meditate in a meadow or paddle a canoe, being outdoors can reduce stress levels. [xii]
*Bonus: if you live in a sunny climate, being outdoors for a mere 15 minutes can give you an adequate dose of vitamin D and promote bone health. [xiii]
Alicia Pawluk received her BSc Honours in Medicine from the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Having volunteered at the World Health Organization’s ‘Climate and Health Summit' in Warsaw, 2013, Alicia’s scientific interest in climate change has taken her to a Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Her work on the health benefits of tackling climate change has been published in numerous journals, but her ultimate goal is to develop public awareness of environmental issues. Alicia is currently studying for her Bachelor of Surgery at the University of Manchester in England.