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Healthy Living and the Environment

Thursday, February 12, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders

Photo by Futurillo.

When we think of the upside a healthy lifestyle, we tend to think mainly of the personal health benefits. And there certainly are many personal reasons to adopt a lifestyle consisting of daily physical activity and a healthful diet – you are almost certain to improve your health, it will make you feel good, and it may even reduce your body weight. However, there is one very important reason which is often overlooked – living an active lifestyle can also have a very positive impact on the environment.

I started thinking about this last week when I was listening to the excellent CBC radio documentary Climate Wars (you can download the podcast here). In it, Gwynne Dyer discusses in frightening detail the events that are likely to unfurl should the average temperature of the planet warm just by just a few degrees Celsius. By nature I'm pretty skeptical of this sort of thing, but Dyer makes a compelling case that as global warming makes life in many tropical and/or low lying locations unbearable (including much of my home province of New Brunswick, which could be under water by mid-century), it will result in a flood of "climate refugees". This flood of refugees, along with food and water shortages, has the potential to lead to large-scale military confrontations, and a number of other extremely unpleasant scenarios. What is truly scary is that, as Dyer points out, if you are born after 1980 (as I am) these events are very likely to occur in your lifetime, and if your children are born after 1990 (as mine presumably will be) it is almost certain to occur in their lifetime.

As I listened to the documentary, I started to think about the things that I could personally do to reduce climate change. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that adopting a healthy lifestyle can also be a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. There are the obvious options like active transportation; simple things like walking or cycling to work (if you can't walk the whole way, you can park the car halfway, or even most of the way there), or avoiding the elevator whenever possible. Another simple solution is moving to a diet higher in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Meat production accounts for a tremendous portion of greenhouse gas emissions – cows pump out a lot of methane. And think of all the energy that goes into refining fruits and vegetables into junk food, which could otherwise be used for much more productive purposes. And then of course there are the more intense, but also really cool options like building a home-made bike generator (see instructions here) to charge your laptop or cell phone while you get your daily physical activity (I really want to try this!).

So if the personal health benefits aren't enough to convince you to take the stairs this afternoon, consider the consequences not only for yourself, but also for the environment.

For other good ideas on ways to reduce your environmental impact from someone who knows far more about this area than I do, check out Daun Lynch's Environmental Experiments with Truth blog here.

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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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