BRIAN PARR’S HEALTH AND FITNESS: Healthy choices for you and the earth

  • Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 7:18 p.m.

Happy Earth Day! Earth Day is an opportunity to raise awareness about the impact we have on our environment. It is also a time for education about what we can do to reduce our impact on our planet such as reducing our consumption of natural resources, recycling whenever possible, and minimizing the waste we create.

Did you know that what you eat and how active you are can have an impact, too?

Here are two suggestions you can implement today that are good for you and the environment.

1. Go for a walk. Or a bike ride. But do it to replace a car trip. Every mile you drive releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the environment. Walking and biking, along with other activity, can improve your fitness, help you maintain a healthy body weight, and significantly reduce your risk of having a heart attack.

Despite the potential environmental and health benefits of replacing car trips with active transportation, 37 percent of Americans report not walking for transportation at all in a given week.

Obviously, walking or biking everywhere isn’t practical. But given that the average car trip is less than six miles and almost a third of car trips are less than one mile, it seems reasonable that you could replace at least some driving with walking.

If you have several places to go, you could even park in a central location and walk to each destination.

2. Eat your veggies. And try to buy from area farmers. Eating locally grown food is good for you and the environment.

Food production and delivery is second only to cars for fossil fuel used and is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Did you know that the food items that make up a typical meal travel 22,000 miles to get to your table?

Food from local farms is associated with fewer “food miles” and a lower environmental footprint.

Additionally, produce grown locally is picked at the peak of freshness, meaning it is richer in nutrients, not to mention flavor.

By contrast, produce that is grown far away is picked before it is ripe, resulting in lower nutritional value. Think about the difference in taste between a fresh, homegrown tomato and a typical supermarket tomato.

As an added benefit, the money you spend on food from local farms stays in our area, supporting farmers who live and shop in our community.

Since you are eating more veggies, you can eat less meat. Raising animals for meat, milk, and eggs has a major impact on the environment.

More than a quarter of land is dedicated to raising livestock, and almost 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock.

American livestock also produce tons of manure every minute, at least some of which ends up polluting water supplies.

Meat is an important source of protein in our diet. But eight times as much energy is required to produce meat as compared to grains and vegetables, and the quality of protein in plants like soy is the same as that in meat.

Eating less meat is among the most important ways in which people can have a major positive impact on the environment.

The good news is that these simple actions are beneficial for the earth and for our health.

Keep in mind that making even small changes can add up to a big impact over time, so you don’t need to give up your car or stop eating meat to make a difference.

Whatever you decide to do, make it part of your healthy lifestyle to get the biggest benefits.

Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.

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