There’s no denying it – our beautiful planet is in trouble.
On top of the much-discussed climate change, planet Earth is threatened by air pollution, scarcity of water, deforestation and animal extinction on a large scale.
And the environmental changes are affecting your health – through the quality of the air you breathe, the water you drink, the soil that grows your fruit, vegetables and grains.
Now I’m not a no-waste eco warrior who only eats organic produce from the veggie patch. Just like many of you, I have a limited amount of energy and resources to get everything done. But recently I have started taking tiny steps into a more environmentally-friendly direction. Because it matters – not just to the earth and its future residents, but to my family’s health today.
Let’s have a look at why being a green god(dess) is good for your health and which eco-friendly actions you can start taking today to make a positive impact.
6 Eco-Friendly Actions for a Healthier Body and Planet
1. Reduce Your Exposure to Toxins
You may not be aware of it, but cleaning and beauty products contain small amounts of toxins and chemicals. Not only do these toxins put a burden on your body, they also affect the (indoor) environment.
For example, scented candles and air fresheners hold phthalates, chemicals that increase your risk for asthma and endocrine problems. Phosphates from laundry and dishwasher detergent even find their way into rivers and lakes, harming aquatic life.
I don’t want to sound like those doomsday articles saying your deodorant or food staples are slowly killing you. There’s only so much about your surroundings that you can control, and getting stressed over potential health hazards won’t do your wellbeing no good either. But here are some things you can do to reduce your exposure to everyday toxins:
- Have a no-shoe policy at home. With shoes on indoors, you track in harmful things like germs, coal tar, pesticides and hazardous particles from artificial grass.
- Use natural fabrics on your body and around the house. Some synthetic fabrics are treated with chemicals like flame retardants. Choose more organic cotton, wool, linen or hemp instead.
- Depending on the quality of the tap water where you live, consider a water filter for your home.
- It’s a popular saying on wellness websites: “If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin.” The skin is the largest organ in your body, and it’s highly permeable. Studies suggest that we absorb roughly 60% of everything we apply topically, from soap to sunscreen lotion. As a fervent user of body lotion, that statistic is pretty confronting. I won’t start making toiletries from scratch any time soon, but it’s worth it to start reading labels and checking out more natural alternatives. Hello Glow, for example, has an entire DIY section on how you can make natural beauty products with a few ingredients.
- Instead of using artificial fragrances, freshen up your home with flowers, lavender sachets or homemade potpourri.
- Switch to natural cleaning products to improve your indoor air quality. Wellness Mama has some excellent tips to get you started.
2. Eat Less Animal Protein
I don’t follow nor do I advocate a vegetarian or vegan diet. But eating less animal protein proves to be good for your body – and the planet.
According to Babette Porcelijn, author from Hidden Impact, consuming (red) meat has the second largest impact of our daily lives on the environment. It takes 15,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef – the equivalent of 300 days of showering. When you also counter in the negative effects of the use of fertilizers, deforestation and greenhouse gas, eating beef makes up 30% of the impact caused by individuals.
Cutting back on meat, even if it’s just once a week, has numerous benefits for the environment and your health. By consuming less unhealthy fats, salts and preservatives from (red and/or processed) meat, you lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. Have a look at how you can start consuming less animal protein:
- Limit your intake of red and/or processed meats. According to the World Health Organization, eating processed meats like ham, sausages and chicken nuggets puts you at risk of developing cancer. Consumption of red meat is also classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans”, which means its likely to cause cancer as well. So keep your portion sizes small.
- Adopt Meatless Monday. If you’re new to eating vegetarian, start with one dinner a week. Instead of trying to replace your meat with alternatives, choose veggie dishes that taste great as they are: risotto fungi, gado gado with boiled eggs and peanut sauce or pita bread with falafel.
- You could also do the reverse: only eat organic meat and sustainable-caught fish on 1-3 days a week. Make veggies the stars of your meal and supplement with (plant-based) proteins like egg, toasted nuts and seeds, fermented soy and quinoa.
- Swap your regular dairy products for plant-based alternatives on occasion.
- For more recipe inspiration, check out the tasty vegetarian cookbooks from Green Kitchen Stories, My New Roots or Nutrition Stripped.
3. Choose Human-Powered Transport When Possible
We all know that flying and driving are bad for the environment. The car exhaust fumes and particle emissions pollute the air, leading to an increased risk of lung disease and heart attacks. Not to mention that the earth is running out of fossil fuels.
Walking or cycling to school, work and the shops isn’t just a green way to get places. It builds your aerobic fitness levels, tones your legs and most of all, it’s fun! Even on cold and wet days when I really don’t feel like jumping on my bike, I feel invigorated and mentally refreshened afterwards.
Here are some ideas to fit walking and cycling into your daily schedule:
- How to Work Your Way Up to Walking 10,000 Steps
- 7 Powerful Ways to Make Walking More Fun
- How You can Gradually Build Your Fitness with Cycling
If muscle-powered transport isn’t an option due to your health, safety reasons or travel distances, you could also consider eco-friendly solutions like taking public transport. Research shows that people who take the bus, train or tram walk 8 to 33 minutes more each day than car drivers do.
4. Surround Yourself with Green
Don’t you just feel mentally and physically recharged after a hike in the woods or a stroll in the park? Your intuitive feeling that being in nature is good for you is backed by science. Spending time in natural surroundings lowers your blood pressure, calms your nervous system, eases brain fatigue and reduces symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. In fact, green spaces are so powerful for our wellbeing, that even just looking at pictures of natural landscapes helps lower anxiety and pain levels in hospital patients.
Trees and plants play a vital role in supporting life across the planet, by producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide. But as a result of large-scale agriculture, forests half the size of England are cut down each year. This deforestation destroys the homes of wildlife and drives climate change.
And it’s not just the quality of outdoor air you should worry about. Studies from NASA have shown that indoor air is usually far more polluted than outdoor air. Another good reason to surround yourself with more green!
Try these eco-friendly actions to make your personal living environment a little greener:
- Adorn your living room with air-purifying plants. If you don’t have green fingers (like me), Greatist has listed 9 air-cleaning houseplants that are almost impossible to kill.
- Plant veggies in the garden. Or if you don’t have an outdoor space, grow fresh herbs and cress in a window box. They give a nutritional and flavour boost to any meal. And it doesn’t get more local than that.
- Create a bee-friendly garden. The saying goes,“if the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.” So welcome bees into your garden by choosing flowering plants.
- Get your daily nature fix, even if you’re chronically ill, housebound or living in a concrete jungle.
5. Use Less Plastic
It’s a tragic sight: the plastic soup in our oceans. According to The Independent, there are 500 times more micro-plastic particles in the sea than there are stars in our galaxy. The remaining plastic waste ends up in landfills, where it could take up to 500 years to decompose, and potentially leak pollutants into the soil.
That’s why in 2017, the United Nations declared a war on ocean plastic. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Bring your own reusable bags when you go (grocery) shopping.
- Stop buying bottled water and use a BPA-free water bottle instead.
- On that note: get a reusable coffee cup and pack your lunch in dishwasher-safe sandwich bags.
- Whenever you buy something, see if there’s a version that’s not wrapped in plastic.
- Shower gels and body scrubs can contain microbeads, particles so tiny they don’t get filtered out by wastewater treatments plants and end up in rivers and oceans. Check your beauty product’s ingredient list for common plastics like polyethylene, polypropylene, polyethylene terephthalate, polymethyl methacrylate, polylactic acid, or nylon. Next, look into more natural alternatives, like Lush’s handmade cosmetics with ‘naked packaging’.
- Support The Ocean Cleanup, an admirable initiative from a then 18-year old Dutch student, to remove plastic waste from the world’s oceans.
6. Go Analogue – Occasionally
It might sound like a bit of a stretch to connect your digital life to the environment. But the manufacturing of computers and cell phones put a heavy burden on our natural resources. According to Hidden Impact, the mining of raw materials like cobalt, graphite and tin contributes greatly to the pollution of the Earth. What’s more, electronic devices use up precious energy in our always-connected world.
And as much as I love the Internet, modern technologies also have a significant impact on our physical and mental health. We’re facing an unhealthy increase of inactivity and obesity, mood disorders, strained eyes and shorter attention spans – and our love for our smart phone is partly to blame.
I’m not saying that paper is necessarily better for the environment, but occasionally unplugging is good for your wellbeing in many ways.
- Put your smartphone on airplane mode one hour before bedtime to save energy and a good night’s sleep.
- Have no-screen Sundays. Head outside and leave your phone at home (if your health and safety allows). Connect with family and friends without being distracted by notifications.
- During empty pockets of time like waiting in line, recharge with a mindful micro-break instead of scrolling social media.
- Delete apps you don’t often use. They don’t just drain your phone’s battery, but also clutter your brain.
- Replace ‘bad’ digital habits – constantly checking your phone, binge-watching TV – with activities that truly reenergize you. Take up an old hobby, read books that lift your spirit or practice restorative yoga.
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.” – Robert Swan
Are you a green god(dess) by nature or are you just starting out with a more green lifestyle? Which eco-friendly actions will you be taking for a healthier body and environment?