Protect the Planet to Protect Your Health

commute

Your physical and mental health is highly influenced by the natural world. Environmental influences on health include:

  • Clean air
  • Safe drinking water
  • Sufficient nourishing food
  • Secure shelter

Regular contact with nature has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, decrease death rates, and may help to increase longevity.

On the other hand, numerous studies demonstrate how air pollution contributes to respiratory illness, heart disease, and even premature death. Similarly, the water you drink can potentially expose you to infectious agents, chemicals, and other harmful contaminants. Clearly, the natural world is your life support system!

How to Build a Wellness Routine That Protects the Earth as Well as Your Health

Minimalism and zero-waste have become trendy buzz words in the wellness realm with good reason. The average American creates almost 4.5 pounds of waste per day, which fills up landfills. This focus on consumerism and throw-away products clutters your home, drains away money, and burdens the earth as well as your health.

It is important to invest in your health for the long-term by building a sustainable wellness routine, cleaning up your home environment, and making healthy lifestyle choices. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect the planet that will also protect your health!

Rethink Your Commute

Sitting for hours in traffic and spending much of your day driving back and forth not only takes a toll on your sanity, but it also harms the earth. Those with longer commutes are more likely to suffer from obesity, have greater stress, and get less sleep.

Transportation emissions are one of the top sources of humans’ exposure to harmful air pollution as well. Studies suggest that transport-related air pollution contributes to an increased risk of death, particularly from heart- and lung-related causes.

If you live in an area where it is possible, carpool or opt for public transportation. This can reduce your stress and give you the opportunity for socializing and connecting with friends (or making some new ones!).

An even more environmentally-friendly option is to walk or ride a bike to commute to work and other daily activities. This can make a big difference in reducing carbon emissions while also building more physical activity into your day.

Shop Local and Seasonal

Dietary choices influence both health and environmental outcomes, with impacts on air and water pollution, soil quality, and multiple health measures. In many parts of the United States, fresh produce may travel an estimated 1,500 miles from its source to get to its final destination, requiring large quantities of fossil fuels that generate pollution.

Locally grown produce is generally fresher and has a smaller carbon footprint than produce that is transported over long distances to reach your plate. Eating in season is also in accordance with Ayurvedic wisdom to help balance the body and mind.

Shopping at your local farmers market, supporting farmers in your community by joining a community-support agriculture (CSA) program, and maintaining a home garden are all great ways to support your local food system and feed yourself fresh, seasonal, nourishing food. Not only does food that is grown locally reduce fossil fuel emissions from transportation but local, small farms also tend to use more conscious, sustainable, and organic methods that support soil health and reduce your exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Getting to know the farmers who grow your food also provides the health benefits of being part of a community as you support local small businesses with your food dollars.

If you have the space, growing your own garden provides you with the ultimate in locally sourced food. Gardening provides substantial health benefits as well, increasing life satisfaction, psychological well-being, cognitive function, and physical health. Even if you don’t have a lot of outdoor space for a large garden, you can still try growing your own herbs on a window sill or join a community gardening space to glean delicious veggies and health benefits!

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Swap Out Plastic

Plastics are ubiquitous in packaging, consumer products, and even footwear and clothing. Since these materials are not biodegradable, they often end up accumulating in the natural environment and landfills. In fact, plastic makes up more than 10 percent (by weight) of municipal solid waste.

Once produced, these materials are here for eons, and many end up polluting waterways and oceans, where they can harm marine life and accumulate in the food and water supply, eventually impacting humans. For instance, microplastics have been found in over 100 aquatic species, many of which are consumed by humans

Plastics and the additives in many plastic products may also release toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), flame retardants, phthalates, and heavy metals. Some of these chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors, which interfere with normal hormone function in the body and even contribute to weight gain.

Swapping out plastic for more sustainable and healthier materials like stainless steel and glass costs you less money in the long run, keeps food and water fresh without contamination, generates less clutter, and creates less waste that can end up in landfills, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

  • Opt for reusable stainless steel or glass water bottles to stay hydrated on-the-go.
  • Choose glass or ceramic containers for food storage. For example, Mason jars are inexpensive options to store and serve food and beverages.
  • Switch to reusable organic cotton or natural canvas bags for shopping and storing produce.

Reduce Food Waste by Storing Food Safely and Effectively

In the United States, over 20 percent of food is lost or wasted at the consumer level each year, deepening hunger and poverty and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment. Mindfully planning, prepping, and storing food can help you waste less food while preserving the nutrition in your fruits and vegetables.

Plan ahead by making a shopping list with your weekly healthy meals in mind so you are more likely to stick to your healthy eating plan and use all the food you buy. Opt for buying in bulk when possible to minimize excess packaging, which builds up in landfills and can also leach contaminants into your food. Many stores even allow you to bring your own glass jars with you to the bulk aisle to purchase and store dry goods.

Once you get your food home, store it safely to preserve nutrition and reduce your exposure to potentially harmful substances. Reusable organic cotton food wraps are an alternative to aluminum foil and plastic wrap for various food storage needs. Reusable food wraps are naturally antibacterial, breathable, plastic-free, and compostable, making them a great waste-free option for keeping food fresh and safe.

Start living more sustainably by incorporating these green habits into your wellness routine. Small sustainable changes can add up to big results in the long term. Try incorporating some of these simple swaps into your wellness routine to protect your health and the planet!

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


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About the Author

Jennifer Weinberg

Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine Physician and Author
Dr. Jennifer Weinberg, MD, MPH, MBE is a preventive and lifestyle medicine physician, author, corporate wellness specialist, blogger, and the founder of the Simple | Pure | Whole Wellness Method. Weinberg offers innovative online wellness and education programs for individuals looking for sustainable optimal health as well as health care providers seeking health communications support and corporations wanting to integrate a comprehensive approach to corporate wellness. Get a free preview of her best-selling stress management guide ...Read more