Create a Sustainable Fitness Routine

Exercising and maintaining a balanced diet are two a great ways to prevent several unwanted health conditions and stay in great shape, but too often what we do to exercise negatively affects our environment. This is because much of what we eat and do to work out depletes our fossil fuels and releases greenhouse gas, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to the atmosphere. Creating a sustainable fitness plan, however, can help you exercise in an environmentally friendly way and reduce your carbon footprint – all while looking and feeling great!

Unsustainable Fitness Practices

The Gym. Working out at a gym leads to many unknown, unwanted environmental externalities. For example, several exercise machines require electricity for them to work – such as treadmills and stationary bikes. These machines are usually plugged 24/7, not only when the gym is physically open. Even when not in use, these machines use power just from being plugged in.

Although group classes, such as aerobics and yoga, don’t require the use of electric machines, they are usually located in air-conditioned and heated facilities. The same goes for swimming pools, which use lots of water (a natural non-renewable resource) and chemicals to maintain the cleanliness and look of the facility.

Typically gyms are open from early to late, meaning that a constant supply of electricity is being delivered to the facility. This electricity more often than not comes from the local grid, and is generated from the burning of fossil fuels. Additionally, most gyms are located far away from residential areas, requiring the use of a car to commute. This practice uses gas, which is a non-renewable energy source, and promotes the release of green house gas emissions.

Outdoor Exercise. You may believe that because you’re taking your exercise outside that you’re being environmentally friendly, when in fact, several outdoor activities use as much power as indoor activities do.

The popular winter sports of downhill skiing and snow boarding require ski lifts powered by electric. The same goes for water sports, which can only be conducted with the use of a boat. Even golf courses can be unsustainable, since they are mowed using fuel and maintained using several chemicals to keep up that pretty green grass.

The transportation needed to get to the location of outdoor sports – usually a flight or long drive – can also weigh a heavy toll on your carbon footprint, as transportation burns fossil fuels and releases greenhouse gases.

Diet. Many people do not realize how far their food has come to get to their plate. The fuel used in production, transportation, both on ground and in air, and waste can be immense. Transporting food is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Watch Institute. Each year, 817 million tons of food are shipped around the planet. The result is that a basic diet of imported products can use four times the energy and produce four times the emissions of an equivalent domestic diet!

Also, several foods many people eat while working out, such as protein bars and pre-packaged foods, are heavily processed. Processed foods require more energy to produce and package than do whole foods. They are usually created in a factory far away and then shipped to distributors. The production of food and the supply chain takes up an estimated 19 percent of energy used in the US, and the energy sources used are most often non-renewable energy sources.

sustainable green fitness and exercise

Sustainable Alternatives

No matter what you enjoy eating, or whether you prefer outdoor or indoor sports, there are several sustainable alternatives to chose from so you can look and feel good while reducing your carbon footprint. It is easy to set up a sustainable fitness program to burn calories instead of burning fossil fuels. There are many options to chose from, and they are all fun!

Sustainable Indoor Exercise. If indoor, try and find local, non-chain gyms that try and reduce their electricity usage by avoiding the frills of excess TV’s, multiple pools, and long hours. Many gyms today are using sustainable machines, such as stationary bikes and treadmills that generate electricity as they are used. The gym can then use this power and offset their electricity usage. By adopting power-producing exercise machines in this way, gyms can promote themselves as environmentally friendly and also reduce their electric bills. Over the course of a year, such gyms estimate that they will produce enough power to light 72 homes for a month, while reducing the amount of CO2 by 5,000 pounds!

Solar power cam also be utilized to power both a gym’s machines, facilities, and utilities. Many people are unaware that solar energy systems can power air conditioning units as well as heating, and even pools. The advantage of using solar power is twofold: 1) it is a clean, renewable energy source and 2) it will reduce the facility’s utility bills.

Finding a gym that is within walking distance would be ideal as well, since if you can walk, run, or bike there you won’t need a car. If that is not a possibility, try and find friends to carpool with. If you have the space for it, you could even turn your home into your gym! This will no only save energy, but also the money spent for a monthly gym or club membership.

Sustainable Outdoor Exercise. There are several outdoor exercises that wouldn’t increase one’s carbon footprint. Running and walking outdoors could be the best examples. Training for a longer-distance race, even as little as a 5k up to a marathon, can be a great way to take advantage of the outdoors.

If it’s winter, try cross country skiing to avoid the high-powered ski lifts. Playing outdoor games, such as football or baseball, is another great way to have fun, stay in shape, and help the environment. If it’s summer and you live near the coast or another natural body of water, swimming is a great full-body workout – as well as kayaking or canoeing – that doesn’t require the expenditure of any unnatural energy.

Sustainable Diet. When it comes to diet, try and eat local. This is more sustainable, as the food didn’t have to travel a long distance to get to your plate. Farmers market’s are an excellent source of locally grown food. Typically, these foods also have less pesticides and chemicals involved in their production as well as less transportation emissions.

Eating whole foods, as opposed to processed foods, can not only do wonders for your diet, but also for the environment. Instead of buying pre-packaged, processed goods, make your own workout snacks and meals. Trail mix with raisins and high-protein nuts is a great example of a healthy and tasty snack.

A Healthier You = A Healthier Planet

Exercise plus a balanced diet is a great way to enjoy our planet as well as to stay healthy and happy. Being more sustainable in our fitness program is just one more way to improve the environment and reduce our carbon footprint. Hopefully within the coming years, as renewable energy becomes a more pressing issue, more gyms begin to fill with equipment that creates energy, rather than using it, and more renewable energy sources will be utilitzed. Until then, it’s in our hands!

Jeana Brookes

Jeana is an aspiring lawyer whose interests in health, nutrition, and staying fit. She enjoys informing and engaging others on ways to exercise both the body and mind. In her spare time, when she is not training for marathons or leading her crossfit classes, she studies environmental law and policy with a life-long goal of working in the non-profit sector. She currently is an intern at an environmental law firm in Washington D.C., and has already recruited a few of her co-workers to join her running club.

One thought on “Create a Sustainable Fitness Routine

  • February 28, 2013 at 7:28 am
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    This is a very informative and eco-friendly post! I don’t like working out at the gym anyway, and the alternatives suggested here are great. Excited to start this new “sustainable fitness routine”

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