– Derek M. Hansen –
Elections are looming in both the United States and Canada, and I thought it time to present a more topical post rather than going on and on about something as menial and boring as running. But how can we combine the topic of running (or jogging) and the federal elections without putting more people to sleep? The only option is to blather on about greening up the environment and saving the planet.
With fuel prices going through the roof and SUV’s sitting in car lots with ten-foot pole marks all over them, one wonders why we haven’t heard people (okay, the tree-huggers) calling for “Run to Work Week” in the coming months. The obvious answer is, “Are you nuts!” It’s hard enough to get people out of their cars and onto buses and bikes for their commute to work. Sure taking the bus and navigating a bike through motor vehicle traffic is taking your life into your hands, but hey, saving the planet is a worthwhile cause – isn’t it?
While running to work is not a viable option for 99.9% of the commuter population, putting on your running shoes and doing your workout in the local park or trail system can help to conserve energy and preserve our environment. The amount of people I see using fitness center machines such as bikes, treadmills, steppers and elliptical trainers is staggering. And, pretty much all of these machines require an external power source for operation. It’s bad enough that most of these people are also driving to their local gym or fitness facility to exercise. They also have to drain electrical power to burn a few calories. And, our sources of environmentally friendly electrical power (yes, that quite possibly is an oxymoron) are not keeping pace with demand.
So, what are some environmentally friendly options for exercising in this time of eco-awareness and brutally high fuel costs? Provided below are an array of exercise options that can yield effective results and not kill the planet:
- Running. Yes, probably the easiest way to get into shape. Prostitution may be the oldest profession, but running is a safe bet to be the oldest form of exercise. Jogging over a specified distance or duration is an easy way to get started. But running can also be done in ways that challenge your body in different ways. Interval training performed on a track or a strip of grass can provide a higher intensity means of challenging the body with a higher velocity of running. Hill running can be performed to build strength and power in the lower body. The important thing to remember with running is to choose your footwear and running surface carefully. Running on pavement or cement sidewalks is unforgiving and can lead to all sorts of stress injuries that will force you back onto the stair climber or elliptical trainer (which are eco-evil!).
- Cycling. Cycling is not only an environmentally friendly mode of transportation, it also works well as a planet-saving form of exercise. More importantly, cyclists can do dual duty – they can ride their bike to work and get a great workout at the same time. As with running, cycling can be done in a variety of workout-types, moving between steady rides, interval training and hill climbing. Mountain biking may even provide for a more intense and complete workout, as the upper body is used more for climbs and descents. Just don’t let me catch you driving your bike to the forest in your SUV! For those who cannot handle the high-impact nature of running, even on soft-surfaces, cycling may be the way to go. Just remember, running will improve your cycling capacity, but cycling does not improve running performance (unless you are really out of shape).
- Weightlifting. Pumping iron is a good way to get a resistance training workout and save the planet. Just look at Governor Schwarzenegger in California, the environmentally friendly U.S. state. Not only can you recycle iron, but also it doesn’t require electricity (except from your brain to your muscles) to operate. And, unlike all of these silly plastic fitness toys such as Swiss balls and rubber bands, iron weights can be used for hundreds of years. At the current gym I work out of, I’m sure some of the weight plates in there are at least 45 years old.
- Yoga. Although I still don’t get the whole yoga/Pilates trend (I still think it’s a conspiracy to wear creatively arranged lycra-spandex), one could argue that it is environmentally friendly. We just need everyone to jog or ride their bikes to the local yoga studio. Of course, I cannot endorse Bikram’s Yoga and other hot yoga methods, as it’s obvious that they contribute to global warming (or at least global sweating).
- Swimming. Open water swimming can be considered environmentally friendly, mostly because you are ingesting large amounts of contaminated water and filtering it through your kidneys. But seriously, swimming at relatively high intensities can be a good total body workout, with much less stress on the lower body joints. Swimming in pools must be considered significantly less environmentally friendly, mostly due to the fact that they require significant energy to heat and filter, not to mention all the chemicals required.
- Bodyweight Exercises. I’m a big fan of putting together varied exercise circuits comprised of simple bodyweight exercises – push-ups, squats, lunges, ab-crunches, etc. Your body has enough mass to create a significant stress for muscle development and you can burn out a lot of calories if you keep the pace up. Of course, some of us have more bodyweight than others, so you can bet that those who need the tougher workout are going to get it.
I’m sure there are many other environmentally forms of exercise out there, I just don’t have time to cover all of them. For example, Ultimate Fighting is probably pretty environmentally friendly, as blood is bio-degradable. It’s just not socially friendly. Ultimate Frisbee seems to attract the hippies, so it must be okay too. At least we know it is testosterone sparing.
The point is that we can all make our contribution to improving the environment, even when it comes to exercise. Just make sure to take along your stainless steel water bottle and donate your old running shoes to needy kids in developing parts of the world. Just remember to pull out your unfriendly styrofoam orthotic inserts.