Environmental changes that can improve your life – The Voyager

The Student News Site of University of West Florida
Bethany Roberts, Staff Writer

Environmentally friendly changes do not have to be taxing or stressful for the individual. There are many ways to incorporate eco-friendly practices into your life that are not only beneficial to the environment, but also to you. We, as a society, rely on a clean and thriving environment. From the air we breathe to the water we drink, our environment supports our very existence. Taking care of it while also taking care of ourselves is one of the best ways to spend our time. 
The first change you can make includes physical activity. Avoiding driving as much as you are able to can improve our air and life quality more than you may think. Physical activity is beneficial to all walks of life. From simple stretching in the morning to a full hour-long workout, getting your blood pumping has all kinds of benefits. 
For this tip, we will look at how incorporating more cycling and walking into your daily commute can improve your well-being. Unfortunately, transportation contributes to 29 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This makes the transportation sector the “largest contributor of U.S. GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
GHG emissions, which include gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are the leading cause of climate change. According to the EPA, a typical passenger vehicle “emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.” By walking or cycling to work, school or social activities, you could avoid these emissions. 
Cycling has many health advantages. The first thing to know about cycling is that it is easy on the joints. Many people are not able to run or walk for long periods because of joint pain in their knees, back or ankles. Cycling is a very low-impact activity because your weight is supported by the seat. According to the MD Anderson’s Cancer  Prevention Center, cycling can improve your proprioception and balance. Proprioception is your body’s knowledge of where it is in space. According to one of their senior exercise physiologists, “as far as maintaining or improving your proprioception, if you don’t practice it, it will decline.” Cycling also helps build muscle and maintain a healthy weight.
While walking can sometimes require more work, it is a great way to avoid driving and get your blood flowing. According to the Mayo Clinic, a regular brisk walk can “prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer and type 2 diabetes; improve your mood, cognition, memory and sleep; [and] strengthen immune system.”
Although cycling and walking are not always available, making a conscious decision to opt for them when you can will improve your health and help our environment. If cycling/walking is not a plausible option for you, try carpooling when you can!
One of the greatest ways to reduce our individual carbon footprint is through our diet. I recently did an immense amount of research on plant-based diets and how beneficial they are to your well-being.
A vegan diet has the lowest land use and lowers the global consumption of water. According to a study done by researchers at the University of Oxford“plant-based diets reduce food’s emissions by up to 73 percent depending [on] where you live. This reduction is not just in greenhouse gas emissions, but also acidifying and eutrophying emissions which degrade terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.” The study also explains that reducing the consumption of meat and dairy would “take pressure off the world’s tropical forests.” This means that eating a more plant-based diet can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 73 percent. 
As for the benefits for the individual, plant-based diets can reduce heart disease risks, reverse diabetes and aid in weight loss. To dive deeper into how eating less meat and dairy benefits you, see this article on plant-based diets.
Another way to improve your life and environment is by protecting green spaces! Green spaces, such as your local park or garden, do a lot of good for our environment and peace of mind. They absorb carbon dioxide, help clean our air, regulate temperature and can reduce the risk of flooding. They also provide a habitat for a variety of animals.
Anyone who has spent time walking through a park or tending a garden can tell you what it does for your body. The World Health Organization states that green spaces can “promote mental and physical health, and reduce morbidity and mortality in urban residents by providing psychological relaxation and stress alleviation, stimulating social cohesion, supporting physical activity, and reducing exposure to air pollutants, noise and excessive heat.” 
You can protect and respect green spaces in multiple ways. This includes watching where you throw your trash, cleaning up pollution, planting trees, planting your own garden (create an at-home green space!) or even joining an organization dedicated to conserving your local green spaces. Explore ways you can help green spaces near you and enjoy the reduced stress levels and increased physical activity.
We all have time that we dedicate to cleaning our at-home environment. The products we use can have a big effect on our health. Opting for products with fewer chemicals is a great way to start helping the environment. Unfortunately, runoff from various soaps and detergents can negatively affect the ecosystems right outside our homes. While most of the toxins are filtered out, a lot can still make their way into our water supplies and affect marine life and water quality. Try choosing cleaning brands such as Method, Mrs. Meyer’s, or Safely. These brands do not use harsh chemicals and most of them are plant-based (and smell great). Using products with fewer toxins can reduce the risk of cancer and avoid the disruption of hormones.
Small changes can lead to big ones. One by one, we can work to protect our environment and improve our welfare. According to the UN environment programme, “the degradation of the environment […] is estimated to be responsible for at least a quarter of the global total burden of disease.” The more we incorporate changes like the ones discussed above, the more we can enjoy life and the awe-inspiring creation we live on. Less disease, better air quality, weight loss and reduced levels of stress are just a few of the benefits of good stewardship of our planet (and bodies). 
Bethany Roberts is a junior at the University of West Florida. She is a communications major with a minor in environmental science and is pursuing a career…
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