Three ways to live healthier and more sustainably 2022
How caring for your body and mind also cares for the environment.
Move more, drive less.
Living a healthier lifestyle is always in the top five New Year’s resolutions, and following a particular
sedentary couple of years, getting fitter is top of the agenda for many. But that does not mean you have
to hit the gym five times a week whilst some 20-something paragon of fitness bellows enthusiastic
commands at you to jump higher whilst your life flashes before your eyes. Steady-state cardio, such as
walking or gentle cycling, can benefit everyone and does not require you to suffer through a debilitating
HIIT session, only never to return.
Walking is one of, if not the best way, to improve your overall health and wellbeing and is accessible to
practically everyone. Whether your goal is to move more, increase your fitness, improve your mood, or
lose weight, walking does it all.
In the long term, walking offers many of the same benefits as high-intensity workouts and are much
more manageable and easier to fit into your daily routine. Walking increases cardiovascular and lung
health, can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes, and cancer, strengthens muscles
and bones, improves circulation and posture, burns calories, boosts your mood, and helps alleviate
symptoms of depression and anxiety.
If you are sedentary, increasing your steps progressively over time is a terrific way to start. Combining
walking one way and catching public transport back, or even getting off the bus a couple of stops early
and walking the rest of the way are great ways to up your step count.
Cycling also offers all the same health benefits and is a quick and inexpensive way to get around,
particularly in small towns with high traffic congestion. In fact, several studies have found that cyclists
are the least likely of all commuters to die from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all other forms of
mortality. Frequent short rides are also more effective for improving fitness than occasional long cycling
sessions, so using a bike to get around your hometown is a great way to get fitter.
Understandably, however, many are wary to cycle on car filled roads with little to no cycling
infrastructure. That is why many cities are quickly adding and improving cycling infrastructure to
encourage more people to stop using cars, increase overall health and help tackle ever-rising air
Finally, if cycling or walking longer distances is too demanding, taking public transport rather than
driving helps to increase your overall steps. The walk to and from bus stops all counts towards increasing
An increase in walking, cycling and use of public transport would inevitably reduce air pollution, which,
in turn, would also have a positive impact on public health. A study published last month estimates that
in 2019 alone, air pollution caused 1.8 million excess deaths and that 86% of people living in cities
(nearly 2.5 billion people) are exposed to levels of particulate matter that exceed WHO guidelines.
A second study also looked at the effects of nitrogen dioxide, which comes from vehicles, found air
pollution could cause 2 million cases of childhood asthma each year.
The short- and long-term effects of exposure to air pollution include a higher risk of stroke, respiratory
cancers, diseases such as emphysema, chronic asthma and bronchitis and reduced lung development in
children. Leaving cars behind would not only positively affect your own health but that of everyone in
And as we all know, less air pollution means a marked reduction in emissions, the biggest driver of
human-made climate change. All transport is responsible for 24% of global CO2 emissions, with road
passenger transportation making up a whopping 45.1% of that amount. A lot of car journeys are also
unnecessarily short. In the UK, 25% of all car journeys in 2020 were under 1.6km, 71% were under 8km.
A distance of 1.6km takes just 16-19 minutes when walking at a moderate pace.
Healthier eating equals conscious eating.
Sorry vegans, but hands up, who likes a good burger?! I admit that I do, but we cannot deny that most of
us consume too much meat and could do with cutting back and incorporating more plant-based food
into our diets.
The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) advises adults to eat no more than 350g–500g cooked weight
of red meat per week (50g-70g per day) and little to no processed meats.
The average meat consumption in the UK is about 86g per person per day, roughly 600g a week. By
contrast, only 28% of people in the UK eat the recommended five pieces of fruit and vegetables per day.
Red meat, which includes beef, lamb, pork, and veal, does offer nutritional benefits such as iron, B
vitamins and zinc. However, overeating red meat could lead to several health issues down the line. Red
meat tends to be higher in calories and saturated fats than white meat, and consuming too much is
associated with cardiovascular disease, weight gain, high cholesterol, and certain cancers.
Aside from the long-term health benefits of eating less meat, widening the variety and amount of fruit
and vegetables in your diet has multiple health benefits. Plant-based and vegetarian meals tend to be
lower in calories and fat, which could help people maintain a healthy weight. Legumes, vegetables, and
fruit are also high in fibre which feeds the good bacteria in your gut. This bacterium produces anti-
inflammatory and immune-supporting roles in the body and can help improve overall gut and bowel
health. Plant foods are also loaded with vitamins and minerals and can help reduce your risk of heart
Environmentally, consuming less meat is vital to help protect against habitat loss, reduce greenhouse
gas emissions and to secure the future of global food sustainability.
Global food production systems, including everything from food for human and livestock consumption,
transportation and machinery, represent 37% of global emissions. Raising and slaughtering livestock
makes up nearly 60%, or about two-thirds of total agricultural emissions, making it by far the biggest
contributor. Beef alone makes up a quarter of food production emissions, primarily because rearing
livestock requires vast amounts of land. Additional land is also needed to grow livestock feed.
Another major environmental factor of meat production is deforestation to create enough space to raise
livestock, often by setting fire to vast swathes of forestland. Burning down large areas creates massive
amounts of CO2, destroys essential carbon sinks that absorb CO2 from our atmosphere, leads to
biodiversity loss, and places species at greater risk of extinction.
Cows and sheep also produce a lot of methane as they digest food, a potent greenhouse gas that
contributes to climate change. Cutting methane emissions is a vitally important aspect of slowing global
Water usage is also a big issue when rearing livestock. Beef is the most water-intensive food to produce,
using four times as much as plant-based proteins such as lentils. Soybean production for animal feed
also requires a lot of water.
If you want to cut down on meat, try starting with one vegetarian day a week or two plant-based
dinners a week and build from there. When cutting down on meat, ensure that the remainder of your
diet is balanced and includes plenty of high protein plant-based foods such as lentils, chickpeas, and
beans. Consuming enough essential vitamins and minerals such as B12 and iron are also important.
Eating red meat once or twice a week should be sufficient, but fortified cereals, milk and supplements
can help you maintain healthy vitamin levels. If you have any deficiencies or health concerns, please
consult your GP or a qualified nutritionist.
Connect with nature.
I go to nature to be soothed, healed and have my senses put in order – John Burroughs.
Modern life and urban living have caused a disconnect from the natural world, with many of us going
weeks, months or even years without spending time in natural environments. Two years of on and off
lockdowns and restrictions have also meant that spending time indoors has become the new normal.
But even before the pandemic, the pressures of urban living, long working hours and excessive screen
time were negatively impacting the health and wellbeing of many.
Apart from being a fantastic way to unwind and exercise more, getting outdoors, especially spending
time in nature, has multiple physical and mental health benefits.
Being in nature and forest environments is thought to lower blood pressure, improve sleep, and
spending time in natural daylight is also beneficial for children’s eyesight and reduces the chance of
developing near-sightedness later in life.
Spending time in nature is also thought to reduce allergy sensitivity and boost your immune system.
Studies conducted into patient recovery also show that those able to view a natural setting from their
hospital window recovered from their surgery quicker than those who could not.
But it is not just our bodies that benefit from spending time in natural environments; our mental health
and mood can also be positively affected by getting out into nature. Even simply looking at pictures of
trees can help improve your mood and reduce stress levels.
The mental health crisis is a global issue, with rates of depression and anxiety on the rise across the
world. Of course, there is no one fix-all solution, particularly for those who suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. However, there is substantial evidence that spending time in nature can help alleviate
symptoms of stress, low mood, and loneliness.
According to a 2020 study by Cornell University, as little as 10 minutes spent in nature or green spaces
can help reduce stress. Several studies have also compared the effects of walking through urban settings
to walking in nature; and found that time spent in natural settings are more effective at reducing stress
and anxiety. Spending time in nature can alleviate mood disorders, relieve symptoms of major
depression and reduce feelings of loneliness.
Finally, cognitive functions in both children and adults can also benefit from urban green spaces and
natural environments. Short-term memory can improve by 20% by taking walks in nature, and taking
time out in natural settings can improve focus, productivity, and creativity.
And the more time people spend in nature, reaping all the physical and mental health benefits it has to
offer, the more people will undoubtedly learn to respect and appreciate its importance and the need to
protect the natural world.
Those that spend time in nature and connect with natural environments tend to display more pro-
environmental behaviours. Research suggests that improving access and contact with nature and
including green buildings and green spaces in urban areas could help cities and their citizens work
towards sustainability targets and develop greener habits at home.