Green Health for a Green Planet: My favorite ways to go green through healthy living

Here are simple ways we can save our planet while promoting our own vitality and longevity. Taking these steps for better health will also contribute to conservation of nature on our beautiful planet.

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#1 Go Vegan:  Nutrition is one of the optimum ways we can save the planet while improving our health.  As a physician, the most interesting field for me to see evolve is the field of nutrition. Once thought to have no bearing on health by the field of medicine, doctors now agree that a healthy diet is one of the most important things you can do for promoting health and wellness. The healthiest diet for prevention of chronic disease and for longevity is a vegan diet and the silver lining is that it is also beneficial for the planet. Eating lower on the food chain leads to more efficient energy use, greater diversity of plants and animals, and reduced pollution of our water from nitrogenous animal waste. In addition, a plant based diet provides us with the whole foods and nutrient balance that our bodies have evolved to thrive on. Ecosystems benefit from diversity, and as it turns out, so does the ecosystem of bacteria that exists in your own body so be sure to eat a diet rich and varied in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. To learn more, check out the documentary Forks over Knives, or pick up the new book on making the transition to a plant based diet. Want to do one better? Go organic! Check out the dirty dozen list from the Environmental Working Group to find out which organic fruits will give you the best bang for your buck related to pesticide reduction. Have access to a community garden? SAVE THE BEES and GROW YOUR OWN VEGGIES! Sign the petition to promote vegetable gardens everywhere.

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#2 Get into Nature: The benefits of getting into nature are far reaching. For one, you are likely to be exercising which is the other most important thing doctors recommend you do for your health. Live in a city? no problem, hit the park, green space of any kind will still give you the benefits. If you have access to a community garden, you’re loving it, not only are you benefitting from digging in the soil, you will also be providing food for dying bee and butterfly populations as well as improving the nutrient content of your vegetables. Heart rate variability, which is an indicator of heart health and balance of the parasympathetic and sympthetic nervous systems, increases when you are in nature. Preliminary studies have shown that “earthing”, basically walking barefoot on dirt, leads to positive physiologic changes. (Just watch out if you live in an area with pin worms).  Hate bugs? …try a lemon eucalyptus based bug spray, recommended by the CDC to prevent tick and mosquito borne disease, and don’t forget the sunscreen! Check out the free database on Skindeep.org for non-toxic sunscreen options. Want to become more involved in conservation itself? Check out The Nature Conservancy volunteer activities in your area.

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#3 Mindful Awareness and Meditation: Living mindfully allows us to separate from habitual thinking and behaviors. All too often we function on autopilot, allowing automatic behaviors and primal feelings to drive our actions and behaviors.  Being mindful, living true to our core values and making conscious choices about how we spend our money, our time and our energy can help us to make important health changes like the ones I mention here. It can also make us more compassionate which is probably the most important value to have in our work protecting the planet. If you haven’t jumped on the meditation band wagon yet, or still think it is not something you are capable of in our non-stop stimulating culture, it might be easier than you think.  I recommend the Jon Kabat Zinn book Full Catastrophe Living or one of his youtube videos as an introduction to mindfulness and meditation. You can also check out free guided meditations from UCLA’s Semel Institute.

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#4: Bike! As much and as often as possible. If you follow this blog you have seen the “carternative” my husband has created to cart us around town. This contraption has improved our quality of life ENORMOUSLY. We don’t have to look for parking, we save on gas and parking tickets, and we usually get where we are going faster, or as fast as in a car. This is especially true for urban environments. Any time you bike instead of turning on your car, you are reducing carbon emissions, not to mention reducing oil consumption while exercising your body and calming your mind. Don’t want to arrive at work all sweaty? Consider an electric assist on your bike. Check out this blog that covers bikes as transportation as well.

#5: Shop Less: Excess consumption and a BUY BUY BUY culture contributes greatly to carbon emissions, global warming and landfill waste. Shopping less is healthy for your wallet as well as your mental health. A very interesting study published in the Chicago Journals by Rik Pieters found that materialism and shopping lead to loneliness which in turn led to more shopping.  Still believe in retail therapy?  Try consignment stores and thrift shops instead. They are a great way to reduce waste while benefiting others, find a Goodwill or Salvation Army near you. Studies show that giving to others can makes you happier, particularly if you give directly to someone you know so there is added incentive to simplifying and cleaning out those closets.  Having willpower difficulties in curbing that shopping habit? Try the book Willpower Instinct here to learn more about how you can curb cravings and increase your willpower.

If you are interested in implementing some of the changes I mention here, remember, persistence AND positivity pay off! Take time to observe how you can be successful at making the changes and always prepare for what could go wrong and sabotage your success ahead of time. Finally, be sure to focus on the rewards, there are plenty of silver linings with these changes.

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GREEN HEALTH=GREEN PLANET!!!


© Regina Zopf MD 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Regina Zopf MD with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Accessing this site means you agree to the disclaimer that can be read here.

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