How Sustainable Living Can Naturally Improve Your Health
As an integrative dietitian so often I get asked questions about how to "optimize health". What supplement should we be taking, what foods should we be eating, what is the key to achieving the ultimate state of wellness.
To which I usually reply that health is not something that should be viewed as a chase, or that there is a magic pill, specific way of eating, or a specific number of spin classes that is going to get a person there...we are approaching this topic all wrong. We are approaching the topic of health as something that needs to be chased, not something that needs to be lived.
When we look at some of the healthiest populations on earth (such as in Sardinia, Ikaria - Greece, and Okinawa - Japan) with the highest number of people living over 100 they all have something in common. People in these countries are living the way life was meant to be lived.
Simply, locally, actively, with a little work and a lot of rest and community.
They don't have the highest incomes, access to state of the art fitness facilities, or an endless budget for the newest health trend. What they do have is strong food cultures where much of what they consume is grown locally within their region.
They move their bodies mindfully every day, they spend more time with family and friends and less time preoccupied with technology.
Most importantly, they aren't chasing after another person or cultures definition of health (the Japanese don't care about what the people in Sardinia are doing), they are just doing the things each and every day that feel natural to their bodies and their cultures and they are living long, healthy lives.
But what do these people all around the world have to do with sustainable living? Well everything. The idea of living a sustainable lifestyle is about living in a way that supports a healthy body and mind, while also supporting the health of the planet, now in the present and for future generations to come.
All the people, in all the cultures that are the "healthiest" in the world are quite literally doing just that. They are living in a way that supports their health, the health of their community, and the health of the planet...and they are doing it without thinking or trying, they are just living.
But, since this way of living doesn't come naturally to so many of us who live in high-stress, high-consumption, high-paced lives we need to actively work to counteract what society in many ways has deemed normal, and quite literally re-learn how to live.
This is where the notion of a sustainable lifestyle comes in and how it can naturally support a healthy body and mind.
How Sustainable Living Can Naturally Improve Your Health
It prioritizes connecting with nature
A sustainable lifestyle is one that is deeply connected with nature and the environment around us. Humans naturally gravitate towards nature and research has shown that just 15 minutes spent in nature can reduce cortisol levels (our bodies main stress hormone) by 16%. Less stress means a healthier body and mind.
It is rooted in conscious consumption
At the foundation of a sustainable lifestyle is this acute awareness that the way we choose to consume be it our belongings or food should be done consciously. This inherently supports a healthy life because it allows for us to consume only that which truly brings value into our lives. It keeps us from filling our lives up with clutter (be that physical or mental clutter) and provides more space, time, and money for the things we truly love.
it focuses on food culture over diet culture
There is no room for diet culture in a sustainable lifestyle. Diets are not sustainable or natural so they have no place in a sustainable lifestyle. Instead sustainable living focuses on reconnecting with our food culture and the way it both nourishes us and is a source of pleasure. People with strong food cultures tend to have very healthy relationships with food, and tend to eat intuitively.
It supports mindful movement
Most people were not meant to sit at a desk all day long and then expect one high-intensity hour of spin class to make up for 10+ hours a day spent sitting. Sustainable living however encourages us to move mindfully. It encourages a reconnection with our bodies and the way they enjoy to move. The more we move in the ways that feel natural to us (not in the ways we feel we should) we naturally want to move more.
A sustainable lifestyle also includes more activities that support the health of the planet and tend to involve more physical movement. Be that you are skipping the bus to walk to work, or have decided to grow a small garden, these things naturally require movement and when combined consistently as they do in a sustainable lifestyle they result in a very constant state of mindful movement that supports a healthy body and mind.
It values good rest
Sustainable living is founded in this notion that the goal shouldn't be how hard we can hustle, but how well we can balance work and rest. It encourages siestas, and good sleep...and good sleep in so many ways is the foundation for healthy hormones, a healthy mind, and a healthy body.
It encourages community and companionship
Humans were never meant to live in isolation, yet more and more with technology our interactions and time spent uninterrupted together is decreasing. Yet at the core of a sustainable lifestyle is this notion that we as humans are supposed to support one another, be it through community environment activities or through just another community dinner spent with friends around a delicious home cooked meal and a nice bottle of wine.
Sustainable living is not something that can be done in a silo. It relies on the help and companionship of others to create a livelihood and support a planet that will be here for many future generations to come.
People with strong communities thrive and have a greater sense of purpose and live generally happier lives. This is just one more final way that sustainable living can naturally support your health and why if for no other reason than you have nothing to lose you should give it a try.