5 eco living habits to celebrate life

by Hannah de Gruchy October 23, 2019

5 Eco Living Habits to Celebrate Life

Many of us know and recognise the feeling of virtuousness that comes from opting for a salad over a pizza or choosing to get up earlier to fit in a run before work. Particularly so with exercise, which releases feel-good endorphins such as serotonin which significantly improve our mood. (Meyer et al, 2016)

But making healthy choices goes much further than just making us feel good. There are the obvious physical benefits to eating a wholesome diet and taking regular exercise. Doing so will help us maintain a healthier weight which puts us at less risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. But there’s more.

Making lifestyle choices that benefit our health can have the serendipitous result of also being aligned with our eco beliefs. Something as simple as drinking from a plastic-free water bottle can be beneficial for our bodies in ways we might not even think.

So here’s five eco-friendly habits you can adopt, that have added health benefits:

1. Eating a plant-based diet

Plant-Based Diet green saladIt’s easy to see why eating more fruits and vegetables is good for us. Eating our five a day (or more) introduces more fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants into our diet, and less saturated fat and processed carbs.

A plant-based diet is more than fruits and vegetables though. Eating plant-based means filling up on nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, lentils and chickpeas. The plant-based diet is one based around whole foods, with few processed foods, so it tends to eliminate things like processed soy burgers and ready meals, however vegan-friendly. 

Eating a diet based on plants means your carbon footprint is considerably less than that of someone who eats meat, fish and dairy. It’s one of the biggest ways you can have an impact on the planet.

Animal agriculture accounts for a whopping 51% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (The Sustainability Secret). Globally, meat and dairy account for just 18% of our calorific intake but use up 83% of farmland around the world (Carrington, 2018).

Adopting a plant-based diet will help the planet by reducing carbon emissions, water pollution from animal slurry, land use and water use. And it’ll help you by providing healthy, nutrient-dense, often lower-calorie foods that support a healthy body.

2. Choosing organic food

Organic Food farmer holding beetrootWhether vegetables, fruit, meat or dairy, opting for organic means you’ll be consuming fewer unknowns as a side to your meals.

In the UK, organic farmers cannot use synthetic pesticides or herbicides such as glyphosate on their crops and organically reared animals cannot be routinely fed antibiotics, growth hormones, wormers or other drugs.

Genetically modified crops are also banned under organic farming rules. In non-organic farming, the routine use of all of these chemicals is standard practice and traces are often present in our food, even after washing and cooking (Reduce Your Exposure to Pesticides).

Aside from the yuk factor of eating chemicals, researchers are concerned that exposure to these pesticides and fake hormones could be detrimental to our health (Pietrangelo, 2018). Also, the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture could be contributing to the growing antibiotic resistance problem (Siddique, 2015).

3. Using less plastic

Use Less Plastic woman holding reusable bottlePlastic, or rather, single-use plastic, has been rightly demonised in recent years. The production of plastic uses fossil fuels and releases toxins into the environment. When it breaks down at the end of its life, it leaks toxins into soil and waterways and becomes food for unsuspecting, hungry sea life.

Tiny microplastics are now finding their way into our food chain, and for the first time, have been detected in human stool samples (Harvey, 2018). Whilst scientists don’t yet fully understand the ramifications of this, it can’t be a good thing for our health.

Avoid adding to the plastic problem by using reusable coffee cups, water bottles, straws and shopping bags where possible.

4. Leaving the car at home

Woman riding bicycleRoad vehicles account for 22% of the UK’s carbon emissions. There are 24 million vehicles on British roads, and together they’re responsible for one of the biggest pollution sources (Environmentalp, 2016).

Driving doesn’t just contribute to carbon-related climate change. Poor air quality from the particles, carbon monoxide, nitrogen and hydrocarbons emitted from exhausts leads to breathing difficulties, especially those with allergies and asthma.

Ditching the car for work, errands and getting the kids to school etc is no easy feat. But choosing to walk to the shops at the weekend, for example, means less carbon for the environment, and more steps towards your 10,000 a day!

5. Flying less

Relax at homeMuch like driving, opting to travel further afield differently will also reduce carbon emissions and pollution.

According to Flight Free 2020, who are encouraging as many of us as possible to take zero flights in 2020, flying is the fastest-growing cause of climate change (Why Flight Free?).

The benefits of less carbon in the atmosphere aside, air travel can put us at greater risk (100 times) of catching a cold or other bugs, dehydration, stomach problems and even low levels of radiation (Kim, 2016). Never mind the jetlag!

Whilst we may not be able, nor want to be grounded and not fly anywhere, being more mindful about how we travel is a good approach. Or even better, swap a week in Spain for a week enjoying the British coastline.

An eco life equals a healthy life

These are just five ideas for making the changes needed to help the health of the planet and our own health. Maybe you can do them all, maybe you can do one or two. We can’t all do it all. It’s far better to be doing something, rather than nothing and we must be kind to ourselves and trust in our judgements.

I often come across doubters who will try to trip me up. They’ll say “ah but Hannah, you might be a plant-based eco-warrior, but what about when you fly abroad on holiday?”

All I can say is that I’m confident in what I’m doing is right. I’ve severely limited my flights and have recently enjoyed a British staycation (in a treehouse, in a thunderstorm, and I’ll remember that - now fondly - for far longer than sitting on a Spanish beach).

I’m learning all the time and I urge you to do the same. For the health of the planet, your health, my health and the health of our future generations. We all depend on our informed, eco-friendly, health-giving choices.

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Carrington, D. (2018, May 31). Avoiding meat and dairy is 'single biggest way' to reduce your impact on Earth. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth
Environmentalp. (2016, March 31). Car Pollution. Retrieved from https://www.environmental-protection.org.uk/policy-areas/air-quality/air-pollution-and-transport/car-pollution/
Harvey, F., & Watts, J. (2018, October 22). Microplastics found in human stools for the first time. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/22/microplastics-found-in-human-stools-for-the-first-time
Kim, S. (2016, May 6). What really happens to your body on a flight. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/travel-advice-what-happens-to-your-body-on-a-flight-travel-health/
Meyer, J. D., Koltyn, K. F., Stegner, A. J., Kim, J.-S., & Cook, D. B. (2016, July). Influence of Exercise Intensity for Improving Depressed Mood in Depression: A Dose-Response Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27423168
Pietrangelo, A. (2018, November 14). Cancer Risk and Organic Foods. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/eating-organic-foods-can-reduce-your-cancer-risk
Reduce Your Exposure to Pesticides. Retrieved from https://www.soilassociation.org/organic-living/why-organic/reduce-your-exposure-to-pesticides/
Siddique, H. (2015, December 8). Antibiotic use in food fuels resistance to vital drugs – report. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/dec/08/antibiotic-use-food-fuels-humans-resistance-vital-drugs-report
The Sustainability Secret. Retrieved from http://www.cowspiracy.com/infographic
Why Flight Free? Retrieved from https://www.flightfree.co.uk/why-flight-free

Hannah de Gruchy
Hannah de Gruchy


Health and wellness author and biologist specialised in sustainability, nutrition and eco-living.

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