From running shoes and wetsuits to supplements and extra food, living a fit lifestyle comes at a cost to both our wallets and our planet. In the next two weeks, I will be exploring some of the environmental issues around fitness and health, as well as some ideas about reducing our impact while staying fit.
What does fitness have to do with the environment?
A lot, actually. First, there’s equipment to consider. Golf clubs and hockey sticks don’t just magically appear from nowhere. Depending on your sport, you may need to invest in thousands of dollars of gear and equipment just to participate. Have you ever stopped to think about what your gear and clothing is made out of or where the materials came from? What happens to used gear that is worn out, outdated, or no longer safe to use? (More to come on this later).
Next, there are the increased nutritional requirements that are imperative for success. Perhaps you remember the sensationalized 10,000 kcal/day diet of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps or are familiar with the bodybuilding diets of Arnold and Ronnie Coleman (follow this link to hear Ronnie talk about his contest diet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1qYqiaiH8U).
Athletes and active people need more overall calories and more protein than the average person. While this is a good thing for those of us who love food, it also means that we have a larger impact on the environment. It takes 17 times more energy to produce 1kg of animal protein than 1kg of vegetarian protein (I’m not talking about Tofurkey but real food like beans and legumes). That’s kind of a big deal.
Sports nutrition and supplements have also come a long way in the last 15-20 years too, so there are a slew of new products with natural and artificial ingredients to consider. While none of them are “essential” the way that real foods are, many of them are very beneficial for increasing performance, reducing body fat, and enhancing recovery. But, at what cost?
Thirdly, there are sporting events. Not to knock the Olympics or professional sports, but think about the sheer amount of energy and resources that go into these events. From thousands of plastic cups at water stations during road races, to flying teams across North America constantly to compete, sports events are not exactly eco-friendly. Then there’s the consumption of goods by spectators – disposable food packages, shirts, hats, noise makers, trading cards, etc. All of which produce ridiculous profits for owners and players. Honestly, who really needs to make more than a million dollars a year? I shudder to think of the environmental impact the spending of those millions of dollars on cars, entertainment, and toys has on the earth.
Finally, I would argue that being fit reduces your impact on the environment because you are going to spend less time in the hospital. Hospitals are very wasteful because they need to maintain a clean and sterile environment. Obviously surgical tools, tubes, gloves, etc. are one-time use only (and for good reason!). In the neurological unit I worked on last semester, they spent $17,000/month on laundry alone! By taking good care of yourself and being fit, you greatly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and more. Less illness and disease also means taking fewer medications. This is important not just to individuals taking the medications because it reduces side effects and drug interactions but to the purity of our public water. Studies have found an increasing amount of drug “leftovers” in some of our tap water. Who knows what the effects of that are?
Whether we like it or not, the environment affects us and the choices we make in our everyday life do matter. While out culture is important, respecting the limits of the planet to support our fitness and sports (and other things) is key to having a future for our children and future generations to come. In my next post, I will explore some of the ways we can reduce our environmental impact while engaging in sport and living a fit lifestyle.