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April 22, 2021

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Every year on Earth Day, people across the planet demonstrate support for environmental protection. Maintaining a sustainable lifestyle means thinking about the impact your choices make on food, products and energy use. Small swaps in your daily routine can have a big impact on reducing pollution and waste while sustaining preservation all year. 

Those choices can also affect your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an unhealthy environment can aggravate some health issues, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease and stroke. 

This Earth Day, don’t just plant a tree. Try to make new, healthy lifestyle choices that are good for the Earth, too.

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1. Make healthy food choices. 

Scientists have been studying the impact of human diet on the environment. Their studies suggest a healthy diet equals a healthy planet. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are best for avoiding disease and protecting climate and water resources. Bonus: These foods also happen to be healthier for you. 

2. Eat less meat. 

The meat you eat has a carbon footprint, which is the total amount of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide or methane, that are generated by our actions. The emissions come from food processing, packaging, transportation, retail trade and food services. You don’t have to give up meat fully to have an environmental impact. Reducing the amount of meat you eat — in particular, certain types like beef or pork — can have a big impact. Researchers have found that if every American ate a vegetarian meal twice a week, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 90 million tons. That is the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of Sweden and Norway combined.

Eating less meat is good for the environment and your health. Find healthy recipe ideas on the American Diabetes Association's Food Hub

Photo by Laure Noverraz on Unsplash.

3. Exercise outside. 

Take your treadmill run outside, or skip the spin class and opt for a bike ride instead. You can use the time to appreciate the fresh air and sunshine, all while using less energy. Other benefits to exercising outside? It won’t cost you anything and will likely give you a mood boost. Fresh air and sunshine have been shown to improve mental health. 

4. Take alternative transportation. 

Pollution from vehicles can have a negative health impact. For example, studies link these pollutants to adverse health effects like premature mortality, cardiac symptoms, worsening of asthma symptoms and diminished lung function according to the CDC. Almost half of trips people take in their cars are less than four miles from home, according to the National Household Travel Survey. Instead of driving, consider walking or taking a bike to get where you need to go. Leaving the car at home will save on gas, help the environment and increase your physical activity. 

If you’re looking to get from one part of Columbia to another, hop on a Blue Bike, the bikeshare program in the city. Last year, South Carolinians rode nearly 17,000 miles on Blue Bikes and saved 880 gallons of gas. 

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5. Visit a farmers market. 

On average, food in the United States travels about 1,500 miles to get to your plate. Getting food from farm to table uses a lot of natural resources, creates pollution and generates waste from packaging. Shopping at a local farmers market benefits the whole community. It helps local farmers and puts fresh, whole foods in your kitchen. Because the food didn’t have to travel far to get to your home, it is good for the Earth, too. Local farmers typically use farming methods that do less damage to the environment. Find a local market near you on the South Carolina Department of Agriculture’s website

6. Shop seasonally. 

Did you know that a typical American dinner contains ingredients from, on average, five other countries? Buying your fresh fruits and vegetables in season is better for the environment. The food travels shorter distances to get to you and doesn’t require harmful farming practices to grow. Eating foods seasonally also helps you reconnect with the Earth. Enjoy fresh strawberries in the spring, peaches in the summer, pumpkins in the fall and collards in the winter. Find more seasonal produce on the Certified South Carolina website.

7. Start composting. 

Food scraps and yard waste make up about 30 percent of our trash, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  One way to cut down on food waste is to put it to work in your garden by starting a compost bin. Compost is organic material added to soil to help plants grow. Starting a compost bin at home will keep the waste out of the landfill, where it can create greenhouse gas emissions. Compost can help you grow your own healthy fruits, veggies or flowers. Find tips for getting started on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website

Shopping locally and in season at local farmers markets is good for the environment and the community.

Photo by Brad Stallcup on Unsplash.

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