Go green

As Earth Day approaches we should think about the impact we have on our environment. We should also think about what we can do to reduce that impact. The good news is there are ways we can “go green” that are good for our health and the health of our planet.

First, you can go green by replacing car trips with walking or cycling. Every mile you drive releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the environment. Additionally, spending more time sitting in your car also can have negative effects on your health and happiness. Walking or biking has no such effects on the environment and has important health benefits including improved fitness, weight control and greater feelings of wellbeing. 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 you could probably replace some car trips with active transportation. Most people commute less than five miles to work and nearly half of all car trips are less than two miles. Both are reasonable distances to bike or walk. If you have several places to go, you can always park in a central location and walk to each destination.

The second way you can go green is by eating more vegetables and fruits. Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins, minerals and fiber and most are low in calories. At a minimum, you should eat five servings per day with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. You should also 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 use 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. As an added benefit, the money you spend on food from local farms stays in our area, supporting farmers who live 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. Over a quarter of farm land is dedicated to raising livestock, and almost 15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock. These animals also produce tons of manure every minute, at least some of which ends up polluting water supplies.

Finally, you can literally “go green” when you exercise. Being active outdoors leads to enhanced feelings of energy and diminished fatigue, anxiety, anger and sadness compared to similar activity conducted indoors. Additionally, some research suggests that outdoor activity may improve attention in adults and children. Another advantage of exercising outdoors is that you might get a better workout because you will likely walk or run faster outdoors. Research shows that even though people tend to exercise at a higher intensity outside, it may feel easier. Much of the psychological benefit of outdoor exercise occurs in the first five minutes, so even short bouts of activity, like walking instead of driving a short distance, are meaningful.

So, as you celebrate Earth Day this week, think about all the ways you can go green – it’s good for you and the environment.

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. You can learn more about this and other health and fitness topics at http://drbrianparr.wordpress.com or on Twitter @drbrianparr.