Green Your Fitness: 3 Win-Win Health Practices

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Have you ever wondered about how sustainable your fitness habits are? Whether you’re an exercise guru or still struggling to hold on to that resolution you made at the beginning of the year, you may have noticed that between energy-guzzling gyms, plastic water bottles and synthetic workout clothes, staying healthy comes at the expense of our planet. There has to be a way to balance the two.

While it’s true that many fitness practices are inherently wasteful, most of us can stay healthy without contributing to environmental degradation by changing up our routines. And with the help of innovative gyms that are harnessing human energy — such as the floating gym that’s taken up operations on the Seine in Paris — it may not be long before the larger workout paradigm follows suit.

Shed the Synthetics

Synthetic workout gear is well advertised as the best-suited clothing for the job; it wicks sweat away from the skin, keeps you warm but prevents you from overheating, and is otherwise fashioned specifically for physical activity.

At the core of these capabilities, however, is the idea that such garments do their job well because they’re made from synthetics. Surely, the logic goes, natural materials don’t perform like this – but that simply isn’t true.

Natural materials, particularly cotton and wool, do an especially good job handling moisture and insulating athletes against cold temperatures, without the cost to our environment. Next time you shop for workout wear, consider brands like Gaiam that use organic cotton and soy fibers to make their clothes, or Patagonia, which allows you to recycle old fleece and cotton garments.

Upcycle Your Downward Dog

Depending on what they’re made from, yoga mats can be an environmental blight — mass produced, they often end up sitting in garbage heaps for years, but there is a better way. Since many yoga practitioners are eco-conscious, manufacturers have sought out new materials, such as jute and rubber or thermoplastic elastomer. These materials have a lower environmental impact than their PVC counterparts.

New to the market is the Manduka Yogitoes, a mat/towel hybrid with a strong appeal. What makes this an ideal mat? Featuring skid-preventing silicone nubs, the mats are produced by upcycling plastic water bottles into a poly yarn, keeping those bottles out of landfills. The mats are also beautiful, with bright colors and designs, making them a purchase you’ll feel great about.

Get a Greener Gym

Perhaps the worst eco-offenders are the gyms. Just think about it: Your gym is almost certainly air-conditioned in the summer or climate controlled in the winter, the machines use huge amounts of energy, and the whole thing produces very little. Couldn’t you just go for a run outside or ride your bike to work? Or, what if you transformed your gym?

Some gyms are doing exactly that by adopting energy-generating equipment, such as stationary bikes. These bikes seem like your usual piece of equipment, but instead of taking in energy, they transform human effort into electricity that can be sent back into the grid. It may not offset an entire gym, but it’s enough to reduce your gym’s carbon footprint by a meaningful amount.

What’s more, there’s no reason not to go green with electricity-generating bikes. As one California gym observed, the energy savings accrued by their 15 bikes will pay for the machines in one year. At $26,000 for the 15 bikes, that’s a significant electrical savings, directly benefiting our planet.

Making your workout more eco-friendly starts with small changes — remembering your reusable water bottle or running outside instead of on a treadmill — but that can escalate to bigger modifications. This year, encourage your gym to slim down on energy use or trim unnecessary synthetics from your wardrobe. The planet will thank you.

Feature photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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Jenna Cyprus

Jenna is a freelance writer and business consultant who covers business, technology and entrepreneurship. She's lectured for several universities and worked with more than 100 businesses over the course of the past 15 years. She's a mother of two kids, and loves to go camping, hiking and skiing with her family.