It’s easy to put off making eco-friendly lifestyle changes when their benefits aren’t immediately obvious. That’s why it’s important to recognize the links between environmental and personal wellness, and to pay attention to the many ways that healthy choices for the Earth are also healthy choices for its inhabitants.

Recognizing the benefits

From what we eat to how we spend our leisure time, what is good for your physical health is almost always also good for the environment. Here is a good example: a primarily plant-based diet is full of vitamins, and also usually contains less fat and fewer calories than a meat-heavy one.
By going meatless one or two days per week, you also reduce pollution from animal waste, stop rainforests from being cut down for feed crops, and save thousands of litres of water and hundreds of kilograms of grain.

Reinforcing healthy habits

There are countless other examples: quit smoking and you will reduce toxic chemicals from discarded cigarette butts that leech into the soil or are ingested by animals; choose tap water over soda and you will reduce pollution associated with the production, transport, and packaging of bottled drinks; replace harsh household cleansers with baking soda or vinegar and you will protect yourself and the planet — the list goes on!

The relationship between mental and environmental health is less understood, but research is beginning to paint a clearer picture. A 2013 study published in Psychological Science showed that people who live near green space are happier and report less mental distress than those who do not. Another study, published in Environmental Science and Technology in January 2014, found that U.K. participants who moved to greener areas experienced an immediate improvement in mental health, and that the improvement lasted for at least three years after the relocation.

Connecting the dots

Other changes that are beneficial to the environment — like throwing open the curtains to replace artificial lighting with natural sunshine, or getting fresh air and exercise by walking or cycling instead of driving — support improved physical and mental health. Indeed, it is becoming clear that environmental, physical, and mental wellness are deeply interconnected in our communities, families, and individual lives.

Personal wellness improvements caused by the environmental actions mentioned above are easy to observe. They boost our energy levels, help us breathe more freely, make it easier to fall asleep at night, and lead to healthy weight loss. These quality-of-life benefits are apparent in the short term, and they grow even stronger over time.

So the next time you lack the motivation to make eco-friendly choices, or are having a debate with a friend or colleague about whether taking action  is “worth the effort,” remember that you’re not only making changes for the environment — you’re also making them for yourself.

Breanne Armstrong
Earth Day Canada