Sustainable Lifestyles Contribute to Public Health

Many cars and trucks drive down a wide two-way highway.
For public and planetary health, we need to decrease greenhouse gas emissions from the
transportation sector. Photo: Pixabay

by Hailey Simmons, Intern at the Alliance for Sustainability, University of Alabama at Birmingham 2nd Year MPH Student

Those who are less familiar with sustainability may not be aware that it has a great deal to do with public health. However, sustainability has always involved public health considerations, from exposure to toxics and air pollution to water quality and sewage treatment.

Typically, people think about epidemics when it comes to public health concerns. However, public health embodies so many more aspects of our lifestyles that are directly tied to sustainability, like air quality, food deserts, cardiovascular health statistics, and nutritional education. And these can be addressed by health approaches like exercise, healthy eating, local farmers markets, community gardens, and alternative transportation options, such as riding a bike or walking.  

Climate change has produced a range of new public health concerns. Transportation accounts for around 29% of greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions and is the largest contributor to U.S. ghg gas emissions. It contributes to respiratory disease due to smog and air pollution. Exposure to air pollution is connected to oxidative stress and inflammation in human cells, which may lead to chronic diseases and cancer.

The ghg emissions and resultant climate change further affect public health by contaminating the drinking water supply as rising sea levels cause salt water to trickle into groundwater tables. This can also displace populations from low-lying areas. Meanwhile, warming temperatures is increasing a number of disease vectors.

Walking or biking to work, school, or other places help reduce these ghg emissions and is also beneficial to one’s health and welfare. Developing healthy lifestyles initially can lead to a healthier lifestyle long-term. Only 23.2% of adults aged 18 and over met the Physical Activity Guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity in 2018.

There are many benefits to daily exercise. One vital benefit is that it combats health conditions and diseases. Being physically active enhances high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is the good protein. It also decreases unhealthy triglycerides, which in turns decreases risk of cardiovascular diseases due to a smooth flow of blood. Consistent exercise helps avert or controls various health problems and concerns, including stroke, anxiety, depression, many types of cancer, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis just to name a few. Exercise can also help improve cognitive function.

Clearly, there is a connection between public health and sustainability. You can help address climate change simply by choosing to exercise and walk or bike instead of using conventional transportation even just one day a week. Consider taking the first step to improving your own and planetary health.

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