Three Simple Changes To Get Fit and Green at the Same Time

By Leo Babauta

I’ve been trying to change my life for the better for awhile now, including simplifying, getting fitter and healthier, and trying to get greener — and in the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of researching into reducing my carbon footprint as well.

And while there are hundreds or even thousands of things we can do to reduce the resources we consume and the emissions we produce, I’ve been focusing on three areas that have (among) the biggest impacts.

One of the greatest things I’ve noticed is that these three changes not only help you to become greener, but can go a long way toward improving your health (and helping you to be more frugal). Going green and being healthier and fitter often go hand in hand.

And while I’m far from perfect, even in these three areas, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and findings with you, in hopes that you’ll look into and perhaps consider these changes yourself.

1. Human-powered Transportation. Namely, cycling and walking. While cars are seen as convenient, even the greenest cars use up tons of resources (literally) and contribute greatly to greenhouse emissions. Autos are one of the biggest emissions contributors in most people’s daily lives. While not everyone is going to go car-free all the time, we can reduce the amount we use cars.

I’ve been walking more, as have Eva and the kids, to parks, playgrounds, the library, meetings, restaurants, movies, things like that. Walking is an amazing form of transportation — you barely use any resources or have any emissions (other than your breath), and you get really fit walking around (see my Japan trip report for more on how I lost weight walking).

Cycling is something I also love, although I’m in between bikes right now and looking out for a good used bike (I prefer used as it means I’m reducing the amount of resources I consume). Cycling for transportation takes some getting used to, I’ll admit, but it’s another incredible way to get around by consuming very few resources and emitting just about zero pollution, while getting in great shape. Seriously, I highly recommend this — try it for a couple weeks and you’ll see that it’s a very satisfying way to live.

Mass transit, of course, is another great form of transportation, although in places like Guam it’s a bit more difficult as we don’t have a very good transit system. I’ve tried using it and it’s extremely inconvenient if you have to be anywhere within a couple of hours. I loved the transit system in Tokyo, however, and would use that all the time if I were living there.

Try to use human-powered transportation more often — you’ll love it. It really helps put you in touch with the outdoors, and takes you out of the confinement of cars, out of the frustration of traffic, and reduces the amount you spend on gas and maintenance. Someday, I’m going to go car-free, and I hope I’ll take all of you with me. :)

2. Vegetarianism or Veganism. Or, if that sounds too difficult, start by just reducing your meat consumption. From GreenWikia: “More land has to be put into agricultural production to produce meat than to produce plant products. Because the methane they belch is 23 times more effective at retaining heat than CO2, domestic animals contribute more to global warming than all human transportation combined.”

Becoming vegetarian (and especially vegan) is one of the changes you could make with the biggest impacts on the environment. If we all gave up meat and other animal products, we’d have enough food to (theoretically, at least) feed the world (most of the food we produce goes to raising animals for meat, milk and eggs), and we’d drastically cut down on the amount of pollution and greenhouse emissions.

Becoming vegetarian doesn’t have to be difficult — in fact, it can be a lot of fun if you explore new foods and ethnic cuisines. And while becoming vegan or vegetarian does not guarantee that you’ll be healthier, most vegetarians are healthier (on average) than the average American. If you replace (usually fatty) meat and other animal products with fruits and veggies and whole grains and legumes, you’ll get healthier. If you replace them with French fries and Twinkies, you won’t. (Feel free to argue this point, but please please don’t share info from the discredited Westin Price Foundation — it’s really full of pseudoscience, we’ve had this discussion many times before, and I would rather not have links to fraudulent articles on my site.)

I’m not saying that you’re evil if you eat meat or drink milk, or that you’re necessarily unhealthy. It’s definitely possible to eat healthy with animal products in your diet. But I am saying it’s something you should consider, for the sake of the environment … and if you get healthier in the meantime, that’s a nice side benefit.

I recently decided to go back to veganism (I’ve been lacto-ovo vegetarian for about 18 months, and was vegan before that) and will write a post about it soon, including some links shared by friends on Twitter.

3. Consume Less. This is a pretty simple (though not necessarily easy) step that can make a huge difference in all areas of your life: how many resources you consume, how healthy you are, how much you spend, how much clutter you have. Buy less, use less, eat less — get away from loving and buying stuff.

It’s interesting because when we try to become greener, many of us automatically look to buying green products … which is good, when you do have to buy something, but actually, buying fewer products overall is better than going out and buying a bunch of environmentally-conscious type products.

By consuming fewer products, clothes, gadgets, furniture … stuff … you’ll use fewer resources and contribute less to landfills. When you buy something, a lot of resources were used not only for the materials needed to make the product (wood, paper, metal, plastic, cotton, etc.), but to harvest those materials, to manufacture the product, to package it, to transport it to the store or to your door. Get into the habit of buying less, needing less, and when you do get something you need, get it used if possible. You’ll end up spending less money as well.

By consuming less food, you’ll (likely) get healthier. Well, not if you’re underweight — you probably need more food actually. But for those of us who have a few extra pounds (or a lot of extra pounds), eating less is just what the doctor ordered. Fewer calories means you’ll lose weight, and if you add to that a regimen of walking and cycling, eating less meat and consuming more plant foods, you’ll definitely get healthier. Eating less food doesn’t mean you need to starve yourself — just eat smaller portions. Eat slower and more mindfully. That takes practice, but learn this habit over time and you’ll save not only your waistline, but your budget and a lot of resources as well.