Something threatens our way of life.
What is it?
Our way of life.
You can move better, eat better and rest better, but if the life support systems of the natural world aren’t healthy, I argue that you can’t be healthy either.
The typical western perspective is that human health and the environment are separate.
Health is seen as a medical problem and therefore the solution is to pump more money and resources into the NHS. The environment is seen as a climate crisis problem and therefore the solution is to spend money on technology to reduce carbon emissions.
But if we attempt to understand the root cause we would see that the decline of the environment is coinciding with the decline of our health.
You can’t be healthy on an unhealthy planet
Every day we depend on biodiversity (the variety of life found on Earth) to keep us alive and healthy. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the foods we eat.
Yet deforestation, pollution, loss of soil fertility, climate change and other factors are wiping out biodiversity and damaging the air we breathe, the water we drink and the foods we eat.
Poor health is not a medical or NHS problem; it’s a symptom of our way of life. The World Health Organisation estimates 75% of adults will die prematurely due to chronic lifestyle disease such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease and that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues.
The environment is not a climate change problem; it’s a symptom of our way of life where making money is more important than life and we are more connected to consumerism and screens than ourselves and nature.
Our way of life is the problem. Not the NHS or climate change.
How damaging nature damages our own health
If the indoor and outdoor air quality is poor from toxins and chemicals in your home or from fossil fuel pollution, your health will suffer. Air pollution is currently the top health risk.
If the soil is degraded from chemicals and pesticides in industrial agriculture the nutritional quality of your food will suffer. Whether it is a fruit, vegetable, grain or legume – it is only as healthy as the soil in which it comes from.
If freshwater is polluted it limits the amount of clean water available and increases the likelihood of disease.
If biodiversity declines it impacts our ability to grow food and increases the likelihood of disease with biodiversity highlighted as the key to stop disease.
If global warming increases and carbon sinks are degraded through soil degradation and deforestation, we will likely have more extreme weather events leading to migration and human health issues.
If we connect with consumerism and stare at screens, we will be disconnected from ourselves and nature, causing our health to suffer.
It took going to the moon to realise just how important and beautiful the earth was. The Apollo astronaut William Anders famously said;
We came all this way to discover the moon; and the most important thing we discovered was the earth.
So how can you go about looking after both the health of yourself and the natural world?
Firstly, it’s not about criticising the modern world and we don’t need to go into the forest and live in caves.
It’s more about living in harmony with nature and our human needs. It’s about having an awareness that when we look after nature, we look after ourselves.
Simple habits for people and planet to thrive
Growing your own food
There are many ways to do this from volunteering with a local community centre and sharing the food that is grown, growing food in your own garden or simply growing microgreens on your windowsill. This has many benefits from avoiding the impact of industrial agriculture to avoiding chemicals and pesticides for more nutritious food.Batch cooking with whole plant foods: batch cooking whole plant foods not only saves time and is healthy, but is better for nature, avoids buying products with palm oil (it’s in many processed foods and a major driver of deforestation) and limits food waste.
Buy the dirty dozen organic
There are some fruits and vegetables with an extremely high level of pesticides. Buying just these ones organic will not only benefit your health and reduce your risk of disease but it will reduce pesticide use and therefore protect soil health for future generations. Yes, organic is slightly more expensive, but you pay twice for your food in hidden costs related to environmental decline and human health issues.
There are many options from planting trees to wildlife protection. It is healthy for you to be active and connect with others as well as improving the environment and your community.
Move around by walking and/or cycling
Practically, this can be hard to do all the time. However, if you live in a town or city walking and cycling is the best way to get around. Not only are you getting in your exercise, you are reducing pollution, it’s less stressful than being stuck in traffic or busy public transport and you also breathe less pollutants than when sat in a car.
There are so many options that are way more exciting than the gym. Hillwalking, trail running or playing sports. Being outside in a park or the countryside means better air quality, connecting with nature and avoiding resource intensive gyms.
Use natural cleaning products
This one is hidden. Do you know what is safe to put on your skin or what household toxins are doing to your body? Using unscented and more natural products will reduce your exposure to environmental toxins and reduce environmental pollution.
Re-wild your garden or have indoor plants
Growing flowers can help attract biodiversity such as bees and having an aloe vera or spider plant in your home is great for improving air quality.
Do something that looks after nature and yourself
Personal fitness is about more than just diet and exercise. It’s about how you interact with the world and how the world interacts with you. How we move, what we eat, how we work, where we shop, in essence, how we live – are opportunities to maximise our health as well as the health of the world around us.
By embracing the laws of nature rather than working against them you can improve your health and the health of the natural world at the same time.
Because really, you can’t truly be healthy on an unhealthy planet.
Again, this doesn’t mean living in caves or criticising modern society.
It’s about reconnecting with nature and yourself – in powerful, meaningful ways so you can enjoy life and look after nature as a consequence.
Because no amount of money or technology can replace our health and nature’s life support systems.