Monday, February 15, 2016

Green Living Column March 2016: Greening Your Exercise Routine


By Wong Ee Lynn
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Most of us would not give much thought to the question of whether we are exercising in an environmentally-responsible and non-wasteful manner. After all, there are not many pastimes simpler or greener than exercising. However, the fitness industry can often persuade us to spend, consume and drive more than we need. Here are ways in which we can reduce the environmental footprint of our exercise routines:

1. Until the last two decades, most people got their exercise by carrying out outdoor activities -- cycling, running, walking and playing outdoors. Instead of signing up with a gym or fitness centre, find ways to exercise outdoors, for example, by jogging around your neighbourhood, going hiking at the nearest forest reserve, walking up and down the stairs at work, cycling to the shops and using the outdoor exercise equipment at the nearest playground. Fresh air is always better than the canned air in air-conditioned gyms.

2. Find ways to avoid driving for the purpose of exercise. Visit the gym in your apartment or nearest to your office. Take public transport to attend road races and marathons. Work out at home, or in the nearest park or playground. Jog around your neighbourhood instead of a popular park that you have to drive to. If you need to drive to a park or other destination because you are part of an exercise or sports group, combine trips and errands so that you are driving there on the way back from work or the shops, instead of making a special trip out just for the purpose of exercise. 

3. Don't buy more than is necessary. Some people believe that buying new workout clothes or gym equipment will motivate them to work out more. This is rarely true, and the motivation to work out usually wanes after the novelty of having something new wears off. Buy new workout clothes only if you need to, otherwise comfortable running / cross-training shoes, t-shirts and shorts/track pants are all you need. Instead of buying exercise equipment, use your own body for resistance training and perform exercises such as sit-ups, push-ups and planks, which require little or no equipment. Use the playground monkey bars or climbing frames for chin-ups and pull-ups. Check the internet and social media for pre-loved exercise equipment and bicycles for sale. Thinking up alternatives to buying equipment and new gear will help you save money, reduce clutter and reduce your environmental footprint.

4. If exercising outside your home, bring your own reusable water bottle and refill it with water. Avoid drinking sports drinks and other beverages that come in packaging. Most of these are less healthy than drinking water, and are filled with sugar and empty calories. Add a slice of lemon or a sprig of mint leaves to your drinking water if you prefer, or make your own isotonic drink using fruit juice or glucose water and a pinch of salt to prevent muscle cramps. Fuel your workout with natural, healthy snacks such as bananas, or portions of fruits or vegetables stored in a reusable container, instead of expensive and heavily-packaged sports snack bars.

5. Use clothes, shoes and sports equipment for as long as you can before disposing of them or donating them. Running shoes that are no longer suitable for long-distance running can still be worn while loafing around the house or neighbourhood, or washed and given to the homeless who need footwear and are not planning to run a road race in your pre-loved shoes. Wear clothes and use towels that are easy to clean and try to use them more than once, if possible, before washing them, in order to conserve water and soap. For example, for your workout, wear the same t-shirt that you had been wearing the day before for gardening, housework or going out to the shops, and wash it only after you wear it for your workout. Try a mix of activities, e.g. running on Monday and swimming on Tues, to give your workout shoes time to air out in between workouts. 

6. At sporting events, take only what you need. Don't take the goody bag if you don't need the things that come with it. Alternatively, wash the race shirt after wearing it and donate it to the homeless or needy. The caps, water bottles and other items that come in event goody bags can be given to the homeless and needy, or to school sports programmes. Donating items while they are still new and usable is the considerate, thoughtful and generous thing to do.

7. Find ways to double your impact. Plan weekend hikes through urban green lungs and parks, and carry a garbage bag with you to pick up litter. Sign up to volunteer for sports programmes benefitting needy children and differently-abled individuals. Volunteer at an animal shelter and get a full-body workout walking dogs and cleaning kennels. Volunteer for a community garden and get the exercise you need weeding, digging and planting. You are limited only by your own imagination.