As the world’s leaders descend on Glasgow for the Cop26 climate change conference, it’s a good time to reflect on the fact that looking after the planet is a responsibility we all share. Just as we take care of our minds and bodies, it’s vital that we respect our environment. Helpfully, it turns out that promoting wellbeing for your body and for the planet needn’t be mutually exclusive.
We aren’t talking about giving up entire food groups, covering your flat in solar panels or planting a tree for every bus trip you make, either. From ditching single-use plastics in your gym bottles to recycling and even opting for eco-friendly gyms, there are plenty of small steps you can make with every workout to give back to the planet.
To help you incorporate a few into your daily routine, we asked peak performance strategist and environmentalist Abigail Ireland to help break down a few easy swaps you can make starting today.
“We often underestimate how much a fitness regime can impact the planet,” Ireland says. “Just as our bodies are our homes, so is this planet.” Best of all, not only will these hacks help the earth, they’ll make you feel even better about your workout, too.
If you’re showering at home as well as the gym, you’re doubling your water usage which, spoiler alert, isn’t the most eco-friendly practice. The average shower pumps out 12 litres of water per minute (power showers are even worse, at 15 litres per minute), which means that a seven-minute shower uses more H2O than the average bath.
Simple tricks like switching the water off while you lather up, and not leaving it to run before getting in, will reduce the environmental impact of your workout. According to British NGO WaterWise, shortening your showers by one minute isn’t just good for planet, it could also save Brits a collective £215 million on energy bills.
Running, walking or cycling to your workout is always a more sustainable choice than driving, and it offers the added bonus of getting you nicely warmed up. But you can take your green credentials one step further by ‘plogging’ your way to the gym.
A Swedish invention, it’s a combination of jogging and plocka upp (translation: ‘picking up’, in this case, litter). As a bonus, bending down to grab those discarded cans and crisp packets offers the same cardiovascular boost as bodyweight squats and lunges.
“The satisfaction that comes from doing something beyond your own needs cannot be underestimated,” says Ireland, “so ‘plogging’ whilst on your jog or run is a great way to combine looking after yourself and the planet.” If you need an extra bit of motivation, sign up to Charity Miles, which allows you to raise money for your miles logged and donate it to climate charities.
Research shows that all of the new clothes bought in the UK every month have the equivalent carbon footprint of flying a plane around the world 900 times. You can’t train naked, but you can invest in well-made gym kit that’s designed to last. Spending a bit more on clothes that won’t fall apart after a few wears isn’t just good for the planet, it’s a smarter investment, too.
Look for brands that use responsibly sourced materials, including GRS-certified recycled nylon, GOTS-certified organic cotton, and fabrics like lyocell and modal, which are made from wood pulp.
You go to the gym to burn energy. But what if the machines you use could turn that energy back into electricity? That’s the concept behind a growing fitness trend that uses specially designed equipment to convert your exertions into useable power.
The Great Outdoor Gym Company’s range of bikes and cross-trainers can be used to charge things like your phone (most are free-to-use and you can find your nearest using this map) and in the US, SportsArt’s ECO-POWR equipment puts the electricity you create back into the grid to reduce your gym’s energy usage.
“It makes total sense to make good use of the energy generated from working out,” says Ireland. “It’s clever, innovative and adds a whole extra level to your workout.” Not only does this massively reduce carbon emissions, it should give you an extra incentive to push that bit harder.
If you’re training for Paris 2024, then an isotonic drink might – might – help you perform at your peak. If you’re in the gym for 45 minutes a few times a week, then water is almost certainly all you need to stay hydrated. Which is good, because unlike sports drinks, you can get water out of taps.
Around 80 per cent of plastic bottles end up in landfills, which is why one easy way to reduce the environmental impact of your workouts is to invest in a decent reusable bottle, ideally one made from endlessly recyclable metal. Don’t just limit it to the gym either; the free Refill app will direct you to over 190,000 free water refill locations across the globe, meaning you’ll never have to buy another single-use bottle again.
The more you move, the more you need to eat, to fuel all that movement. But there’s an enduring myth that the only way to make the most of your workouts is by mainlining protein, and that only animal-based protein contains all the amino acids you need to build muscle.
Neither of those is true, which is good news for the planet (for example, it takes – on average – 100x more water to produce a pound of animal protein than a pound of plant-based protein). Huel Powder contains all the essential amino acids as well as all the micro- and macronutrients the human body needs, including enough protein for any training level, and is completely plant-based. Which means it’s good for you, and good for everyone else who shares this planet with you.
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