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January 01, 2010

Healthy you, healthy Earth

Reduce fat and reduce carbon footprint at the same time

L. Sara Bysterveld

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As you slide into your sweat pants — you know, the ones that accommodate that little bit of extra belly that has popped up over the course of the holidays — and contemplate New Year’s resolutions, you may, like many people, decide it’s time to get your fitness back on track.

But if lowering your carbon footprint is also on the list of resolutions for 2010, there are a few extra considerations to be made as you plan your new fitness regime.

Luckily, fitness may be one of the easiest areas in life to be more sustainable, thanks to a readily available source of energy — your own body. Raising your heart rate and taxing your muscles allows for your workout to have a net-zero impact on the earth, depending on where you exercise and the equipment you use.

As in most areas of life, the fewer products called for in a workout, and the closer to home it will take place, the lower the impact on the earth. Jogging, walking, yoga, resistance training and cycling are all choices with a low environmental impact, although there are still steps to be taken to ensure the sustainability of even these activities.

Winter, of course, complicates matters, cutting down the selection of possible activities substantially and keeping most of us indoors for a few months. But while Regan Chernish, sales associate at Elements the Patagonia Store and ultramarathon runner, admits that there are more people working out indoors during the colder months, he also asserts that there are still plenty of joggers taking advantage of Calgary’s trail systems even on the coldest days.

He says that while we all drive to the mountains now and again (or often), some of the best runs around are within Calgary’s city limits, including the Weaselhead, Fish Creek Park, and the Douglas Fir Trail in Edworthy Park.

“With a bit of planning with your gear, and a proper layering system, you’ll be fine,” assures Chernish. “You might get a little wet and cold, but you can grab a coffee on the way home.” Even a sport as simple as running calls for some thought when it comes to the eco-friendliness of gear. Patagonia sets a high standard in this area, using many recycled and eco-friendly materials in their products.

Chernish points out that more manufacturers are picking up on the demand for eco-friendly products and acting accordingly. He recommends buying high quality, durable gear that will last and not need to be replaced any time soon.

Other sports that can be enjoyed outdoors without driving (or at least without driving far) while taking in the city’s parks include snowshoeing, cross country skiing and hiking.

Another workout known for its simplicity is yoga. A mat and some floor space are all that’s needed and would-be yogis can take their practice anywhere. Unfortunately, the PVC from which most yoga mats are constructed is not the most eco-sensitive material. A safer bet is a PVC-free mat, or a recycled Karma Eco Mat from

For people who need the motivation of a gym setting, choose a facility that is close to home or work or located along the commute. An extra drive each way to make it to the gym just means extra fuel burned and more carbon released. Don’t be afraid to ask about the cleaning products the facility is using, including that handy spray bottle you use to wipe down the machines after you have used them. A towel (of your own or the gym’s) is a more earth-friendly option than paper towels when eradicating those germs. 

Tread Lightly on the Road to Fitness

Use these ideas from Joan Bell, owner of Airdrie Yoga and Fitness ( to get your heart pumping without harming the earth: Take the dog for a walk, play fox-and-goose with the kids, go sledding, go dancing or plan a walking date with a friend — have some fun! Do some resistance training at home. Use your own weight and do push-ups, crunches, lunges and more, or invest in a resistance band, medicine ball or hand weights. Tone with a skipping rope or a hula hoop and feel like a kid again. Both are great forms of exercise. Check out the selection of fitness DVDs at the library. Invite a friend to join you if you need some motivation. Wear a pedometer to count your steps and aim for at least 10,000 a day. Get creative about logging more steps! Join a local running group. The Running Room is a great resource.

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