At this time of year many people are making decisions to either improve their health, save money or help the environment. But what if you could do all three with a single habit? Below are seven examples of how that might look.
My nutrition coaching style focuses on the importance of adopting small habits that add up to make a big impact. That’s the premise of this article as well. Without totally overhauling your life, you could pick one or two things from the list below that can make a big impact in terms of your health, finances and environmental footprint.
1. Walk or bike for transportation or entertainment.
Improve your health: Walking and/or biking is great physical exercise that can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve mental health and much more. In fact, I think walking is the most underrated exercise in the world!
Save money: You’ll save money on gas by reducing your driving time. You can also save money on entertainment if you take up walking or biking instead of other more expensive hobbies. If you happen to be able to eliminate the need for one of your vehicles by walking to work you can save a lot of money on car payments, insurance and maintenance. When the pandemic began we went down to one car and have not regretted our decision.
Help the environment: By walking or biking instead of driving you’ll be reducing the amount of harmful emissions released into the atmosphere. If you can’t walk to work consider walking or biking when you can. Maybe it’s too far to work, but what about the library, school, church or coffee shop?
2. Stop buying things you don't need.
Improve Your Health: Clutter and debt can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. You can read all about the link between health and simplicity here. A few examples include:
a clutter-free kitchen makes it easier and more enjoyable to cook healthy meals
a clutter-free bedroom leads to better sleep
a clutter-free home means less time managing your possessions and more time and mental space for the things that are important to you (like your health, relationships or other passions)
Save money: It goes without saying that buying less stuff will leave you with extra money in your wallet. Think of what you could do with that money! You could save up for a trip, donate to a charity, or go on a fun date.
Help the environment: According to sustainability expert, Shelbizleee "Every single thing we buy has an environmental footprint, from where something was grown, to the fact that it had to use greenhouse gases to be shipped, to the energy it takes to manufacture that thing and then ship it all over again, and then at the end of it's life cycle you have to do something with it - and often times it gets thrown away. So inevitably by buying less, we are lessening our environmental footprint." She calls her way of life "eco-minimalism" which she defines as "buying as little as you can new to have the smallest resource footprint possible."
3. Buy local produce in season.
Improve your health: Fruits and vegetables in general have many health benefits, and getting them local and in-season ensures they are fresh and at peak nutrient density. Plus, they often taste better in season.
Save money: Produce is usually cheaper when it’s in-season because there is more supply available and sometimes local produce is cheaper than that which has to be transported from far away. At our house there are a few produce items that we only buy when they’re in season locally like asparagus, peaches, pears, cherries, plums and some varieties of squash. Buying local also supports your area’s economy, so vote with your dollar to keep local businesses and farmers in business.
Help the environment: Buying anything that is made or grown locally simply means there will be less transportation and energy costs associated and therefore fewer harmful emissions released into the atmosphere. Produce at Farmers Markets also usually come with less packaging than in grocery stores.
4. Grow and make your own food.
Improve your health: Growing your own food can create more of a connection with, and appreciation for the food you eat. If you go to all the effort of planting, watering, weeding, pruning and harvesting, there’s a good chance you’ll eat what you sowed. For example, I used to not be particularly fond of tomatoes, but one summer I was given a tomato plant seedling, and guess what? I ate a lot of tomatoes that summer and grew to appreciate them.
By cooking at home you have more control over what goes into your meals compared to eating at a restaurant. Therefore, you can choose to include healthy, nutritious ingredients and skip some of the processed stuff.
Save money: Vegetable seeds are cheap, and everyone knows cooking at home is usually more cost effective than eating out. In fact, many well-known personal finance experts suggest cooking at home instead of dining out as a successful strategy for saving money.
Help the environment: Growing your own food requires less transportation and less packaging than buying produce at a grocery store. When you cook at home you can limit how much waste is created. You can use your own dishes instead of getting takeout containers and cutlery and you’re avoiding the excess packaging that often comes with fast food. You can use less-than-perfect produce or make do with leftovers that restaurants might throw out. Also, a home kitchen requires less energy to operate than a commercial one.
5. Make water your drink of choice and use a reusable water bottle.
Improve your health: You can read all about the health benefits of drinking water here.
Save money: Drinks are expensive! Tap water is (basically) free. Restaurant drink prices are basically robbery in my opinion, but even if you buy your sodas at the grocery store you could save around $165 a year by switching to tap water. Disposable plastic water bottles are only $0.12 per bottle (at my Walmart) but if you think about drinking 2L per day for the rest of your life, that adds up fast. $180 per year to be exact.
Help the environment: I think most people have heard about the negative environmental impact caused by disposable water bottles. According to WaterDocs, bottled water is almost 2000 times more energy intensive to produce than tap water, and each plastic bottle takes 450+ years to decompose. Although recycling efforts can help, reducing production and consumption in the first place is a more comprehensive solution. So once again, vote with your money by NOT buying disposable plastic water bottles.
6. Eat more meatless meals.
Improve your health: I won’t speak to the nutrition or quality of meat that most of us buy. But I do know that when there is less meat on a plate that means there can be more room for vegetables and most of us could stand to eat a few more of those.
Save money: Let’s be honest, my main motivation for incorporating more meatless dinners into our diet was to save money. Meat is usually the most expensive part of my grocery list per pound so I am happy to save a few dollars by eliminating meat from at least one dinner per week.
Help the environment: According to GreenPeace, “Shifting to more plant-based foods is essential to combatting climate change, soil, air and water pollution, ocean dead zones, and myriad other problems caused by industrial livestock production. If we decide to eat fewer meals with meat each week, we can have a huge impact on our collective health and the health of the planet.”
7. Go hiking
Improve your health: Hiking is great cardiovascular exercise, and spending time in nature is known to decrease feelings of stress and anxiety. Did you know that sustained cardiovascular activity (like hiking) is said to increase neurogenesis in adults? Yes, it’s just as good for your brain as the rest of your body.
Save money: Hiking as a hobby or form of exercise has little to no cost associated. All you really need are some decent shoes, a water bottle and the great outdoors. You could save a lot of money by choosing to go hiking instead of attending a weekly aerobics class, or as a family outing instead of going to a restaurant or movie theatre.
Help the environment: According to Environment South Africa “Hiking trails play a significant role in raising environmental awareness by teaching people about natural environments they often find themselves in. They even instill appreciation and respect in people hiking the trails, which in turn helps to protect the natural habitat of native animals and plants. With rising awareness, hiking trails even encourage people to walk and hike more (thus bringing down fossil fuel consumption for vehicles), which in turn triggers a passive involvement in the environmental cause.”
So, there you have it - 7 ways to improve your health while also saving money and helping the environment. I hope you were encouraged that you can take simple steps towards a better future. It doesn’t have to be complicated or grand, and you CAN do it!