In honor of Earth Day last month, I want to talk about taking care of ourselves by taking care of the world we live in. This has been on my mind as I’ve been playing at the park with my daughter. Being an inquisitive toddler, she finds every bit of trash on the ground and brings it over to show me. I have been astonished by the trash laying around a children’s park! This astonishment increased when we went backpacking as a family, found a campsite in the middle of the woods, and found empty plastic water bottles, cigarette butts, and other trash hidden behind a fallen tree. If there’s any where you expect to find cleanliness, it’s while you’re camping, far away from humanity.
I believe that if the world were a cleaner place, more people would get out and explore it, increasing their physical activity and their health. We’ve all been disenchanted by a park, a trail, or even a part of town when we find it covered in litter, next to a bunch of idling cars spewing exhaust into the air, or surrounded by individuals who are smoking. Our likelihood of going back is greatly decreased. So make a step for improving our health by taking care of the earth.
When I was in junior high, my friend’s older brother told us that he believed the world would change if everyone picked up 10 pieces of trash a day. It sounds small, but I think he’s right. As we become aware of the trash left around us, we’ll be more likely to throw our own trash in a garbage can instead of on the street. As we do this, our friends and family will start to follow our example, and pretty soon we’ll have cleaner cities, and more courteous people.
I grew up in Utah, where the air quality becomes very bad in the winter as the cold weather sets in. To prevent poor air quality, we try not to idle our cars, we reduce the number of car trips we take, and we have laws passed to ensure lower emissions. As I run around my neighborhood I have passed idling cars at the beginning of my run only to pass by them again 20 minutes later to find them still idling. Not only is this horrible for our environment, but I don’t particularly love breathing in exhaust either. Be courteous as you wait in your car and turn it off instead of idling. Contrary to popular belief, idling for more than just 10 sec uses more gas than turning your car off and on again (1).
Instead of using disposable water bottles, buy a refillable water bottle (or 2 or 3) to take with you when you’re exercising or out on errands. You’d be surprised by the number of empty water bottles and bottle caps my daughter and I find lying around everywhere we go! If you do have trash with you, put it in a trash can or bring a bag to wrap it up in until you get somewhere you can throw it away.
And last, don’t smoke. Smoking is obviously a risk for our own health, but people don’t always consider the health of others around them. Smoking next to a park, a building entrance, a well-trafficked street, or anywhere else where you are around other people (even if just for a short time) increases their risk of lung disease from inhaling secondhand smoke. Cigarette butts are the number one discarded item in the world. They are not fully biodegradable, and what does biodegrade can leach toxins into the earth and water systems (2,3). If you do smoke, find a coach to help you quit. If you’re determined to continue smoking, do so courteously by never smoking around others and discarding of the cigarette butts appropriately – never on the ground! If you don’t smoke, help educate others around you and ask individuals to stop smoking at the park, the beach, while hiking (yes, I have seen this!), etc.
Take a personal interest in the health of our world and the health of all those living on it. If we can begin to pick up trash, stop idling our cars, use reusable water bottles, and stop smoking and/or leaving cigarette butts behind, we will make the world a more pleasant place to be. People will want to be outside and in doing so will increase their physical activity (see the March 22nd blog article). Together we can change the world! So let’s do it.