People who practice a green lifestyle often discover that choices which are healthy for people are often healthy for the planet as well. Adjusting your lifestyle to practice good conservation habits often has the positive side effect of getting you outdoors and active, and shifting your diet from unhealthy and energy-intensive processed foods to fresh, nutritious options.
Flexitarianism refers to the choice to give up meat for a set number of days or meals per week (see References 8, page ix). Meatless Mondays, for example, have become popular in school cafeterias and workplaces as participants strive for a more healthful diet with less negative environmental impact (see References 9). Vegetable-based foods tend to consume less energy in their production than conventionally produced animal-based foods. A 2003 study by a team of Swedish researchers, for example, found that fresh, locally produced carrots required 1/46th of the energy per portion than fresh beef. Conventionally produced meat often requires considerable energy outputs in feed production, livestock care, processing, transportation, storage and cooking. (See References 1) Giving up meat even once per week is good for you as well as the planet. Vegetarian diets high in plant-based foods carry a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes (see References 2).
Locally produced foods require less energy input than those transported long distances from producer to consumer (see References 1). A study from Iowa State University's Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture looked at Chicago produce markets and found that food traveled, on average, over 1,500 miles from producer to plate (see References 3, page 1). Buying from local producers lessens the strain on the environment from such energy-consuming activities. Furthermore, fresh foods help steer you away from heavily processed foods that can be a detriment to your health.
Walk or Bike, Don't Drive
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that more than 62 percent of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2003 were from passenger vehicles and light trucks, and that these emissions increased 19 percent between 1990 and 2003 (see References 4, page 7-8). In 2000 the agency calculated the average U.S. passenger vehicle consumes 581 gallons of gasoline each year and produces 12,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions (see References 5). In addition to conserving and protecting natural resources damaged by fuel production and climate change, walking or biking whenever possible has health benefits, especially reducing obesity and associated illnesses.
Enjoy Natural Spaces
Spending time in natural spaces, such as public parks or nature centers, can also improve your psychosocial well-being, according to a 2009 study published in the "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin." The study found that time spent outdoors made participants more caring and outwardly focused (see References 7). Local parks often provide opportunities for volunteers to clean up trash, maintain trails or restore habitats -- additional opportunities to get outside, get active and enjoy nature.
- "Ecological Economics"; Food and Life Cycle Energy Inputs: Consequences of Diet and Ways to Increase Efficiency; Annika Carlsson-Kanyama et al.; 2003
- American Dietetic Association: Press Release -- Appropriate Planned Vegetarian Diets Are Healthful . . . ; July 2009
- Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; Food, Fuel, and Freeways; Rich Pirog et al.; June 2001
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the U.S. Transportation Sector, 1990-2003; March 2006
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Emissions Facts; April 2000
- "The Lancet"; Can Cities Be Designed to Fight Obesity?; Marilynn Larkin; September 27, 2003
- "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin"; Can Nature . . .?; Netta Weinstein et al.; August 2009
- "The Flexitarian Diet"; Dawn Jackson Blatner; 2009
- Meatless Monday: About
First published in 2000, Dawn Walls-Thumma has served as an editor for "Bartleby" and "Antithesis Common" literary magazines. Walls-Thumma writes about education, gardening and sustainable living. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and writing from University of Maryland and is a graduate student in humanities at American Public University.
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