Well-being from environmental action
Why are we not leading healthier and more environmentally friendly lives when we know perfectly well how to do it? While popping a pill may seem like the easy solution, it is rarely the right or the only route to feeling better. There are areas in all our lives where improvements can be made to create a better, healthier existence for both us and the planet.
‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ This sentiment by the classic writer Marcel Proust is one of my favourite quotes. Most of us lead hectic lives full of responsibilities. One of my most important responsibilities is encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles. Usually people only come to see a doctor when they feel unwell or unhappy. Some want a prescription. While popping a pill may seem like the easy solution, it is rarely the right or the only route to feeling better.
Many swear to change their lifestyle – just as soon as they have time. But when is the right time? When you really get sick? Or when a new disaster strikes and stops life as we know it?
A leap into the unknown
Five fearless locals took the plunge and signed up for the City of Lahti’s Planetary Prescription experiment. Standing by we had a veritable brigade of experts and partners to support our fearless five as they readied themselves to lay bare their lifestyles for their peers to pick apart. Everyone knowns the basic components of a healthy lifestyle: sleep, exercise, a healthy diet, a comfortable living environment and regular access to fresh air. We know that driving causes carbon dioxide emissions, that eating too much meat is bad not just for our health but also for the planet and that a walk through the woods is more reinvigorating than a jaunt through the concrete jungle. So why are we still sticking to our bad habits? Why are we not leading healthier and more environmentally friendly lives?
Almost all of the five participants blamed a hectic lifestyle and stress for their lazy choices in our initial assessment. Grabbing an unhealthy lunch on the go was the easy option. Lack of time and energy for cooking resulted in groceries going out of date in the fridge and ending up in the bin. Fighting with children over what they would and would not eat or do was the final straw that drove the participants to opt for the safe and familiar over the new and exciting.
Sleep is the first lifestyle component to suffer in times of high stress. Being in a rush all day leaves the brain feeling wired well into the evening. Recovery takes longer. Tolerance to mental and physical exertion decreases. As disappointments mount, previously cherished pastimes become chores and are dropped, one after another. When this happens, it is time to stop looking at measurements, percentages and graphs and just enjoy the moment.
Prescribing for a happier, healthier life
Each of the participants was given a personalised health plan designed to steer them towards a healthier and more environmentally friendly lifestyle. The idea was for the changes to complement the participants’ existing routine – not to turn it upside down. This could mean, for example, a detour through a park on the way to work or a quick phone call home to share observations about nature with the kids. The participants were challenged to broaden their mind and think up new ways to use vegetables and natural ingredients as well as to experiment with more climate-friendly sandwich fillers. One participant took advantage of the sunny weather in the summer and moved their office outdoors to a forest workstation – a unique Lahti-born invention. The participants were reintroduced to the joy of physical exercise by recommending less intensive sports and slower-paced activities. Families with children were encouraged to make more use of their own garden and to spend more quality time together.
The experiment proved that a lower carbon footprint is surprisingly easy to achieve through lifestyle changes that, while boosting well-being and even health, still leave room for enjoying life. Just slightly tweaking each of the various lifestyle components (exercise, nutrition, nature connectedness, living environment) can make a big difference overall. Taking one step at a time is easier, and changes that are introduced gradually are more likely to last. On the other hand, a slip-up is not the end of the world. Little by little, we learn to look forward to routines that signal the start of a happy moment. That signal can be an inspiring, nature-themed screensaver on the computer, an insect hotel built with the kids, a memory of a day out paddleboarding in the summer or the excited bark of a furry friend on a walk in the woods. Life can be full of amazing new experiences if only we learn to look at it with new eyes, find enjoyment in those aspects that are going well and work on those areas that have the potential to lead to a better, healthier life for both us and the planet.