11 Eco-Friendly Exercises You Can Do Right Now

Reducing your impact on the environment can have a lasting effect on future generations — and you could start in the simplest of ways — with your workouts, by creating your own eco-friendly exercise regime. From breathing in fresh air to clipping in on a mountain bike to using your dining room chair to strengthen your triceps, you are able to benefit your health and the earth all at once.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone is at risk as environmental changes threaten human health and well-being, especially those with low economic resources and who live in specific locations across the globe. But you can do your part to help solve this worldwide issue.

The following 11 eco-friendly exercises use less electricity, reduce your carbon footprint and at the same time, offer valuable health gains to both your body and mind.

1

Hiking

Hiking with Hike Maui
Photo by John Fischer, licensed to About.com

Exploring Mother Nature by taking a hike allows you to partake of landscape vistas and work out your quads and hamstrings, as trails offer ever-changing terrain. According to the National Park Service (NPS), hiking creates a whole-body workout that builds strong muscles and bones, improves your cardiovascular health, lowers your risk of respiratory conditions and improves your sense of balance because trails often include both inclines and declines.

You also have options, depending on your hiking preference — the NPS says you will find more than 400 national parks across the country. You might even have trails right by where you live.

As an added bonus, hiking could help you feel good mentally. A June 2015 study out of Stanford University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that people who walk in nature, as opposed to a highly-trafficked urban setting, demonstrated lower activity in an area of the brain associated with depression.

In this study, one group of participants walked for 90 minutes in a grassland area with trees and shrubs and another group walked along a traffic-heavy four-lane road. Researchers measured both heart and sweating rates and performed brain scans both pre and post-workout. They found significant, positive changes in neural activity in those who walked in nature versus an urban setting. 

2

Running or Walking

People walking the Way of St. James, Camino de Santiago, Spain Hikers walking the ,Camino de Santiago Walk, Spain
Dori Moreno / Getty Images

Running and walking are eco-friendly exercises that don’t require a car, since you can do them right out your front door. In addition, spending time outdoors rather than on a treadmill can work out different leg muscles, as the terrain and natural elements change frequently.

Running outdoors also creates a better running economy (meaning, how much energy you use at an aerobic intensity), per a 2015 study published in Biology of Sport. Researchers had runners perform an exercise test on a running track versus a treadmill at a 1% incline. They found that the runners had significantly better running economy on the track versus on the treadmill. 

3

Using Workout Gear You Find at Home

Woman working out at home
vgajic/Getty Images

You don't need to use your car and head to an expensive, electricity-using gym to get in a satisfying, whole-body workout. You can use furniture and products you have right in your own home. For example, you can do the following:

  •  Use a sturdy chair for tricep dips. You stretch your legs out away from the chair, bend down and put your hands on the front of the chair and slowly lower yourself and then back up.
  • You can use water bottles or milk gallons filled with water as free weights. (Then put them back in the refrigerator to avoid wasting water.) You can also purchase small used free weights at a used sporting goods store or online. These free weights can be used for bicep curls, arm curls, wrist curls, overhead arm raises and front row arm raises, according to the National Institute on Aging (NIH).
  • The NIH also recommends working on hand grip strength with a simple tennis ball. You could also use a stress ball or any type of bendable ball you find around the house.
  • You can use the wall for wall push ups. Step away a couple of feet from the wall, stretch out your arms and use your weight to push you up and back down.
  • Squats and lunges don't require anything but your own body to do.

Since you are working out at home and might not have anyone around as you exercise, the NIH suggests the following safety rules:

  • Don't hold your breath when you conduct strength exercises.
  • Breathe in slowly through the nose.
  • Breathe out slowly from your mouth.
  • Also, keep a cellphone close just in case of an emergency.
4

Yoga

Keemala resort Phuket yoga
©Keemala

Yoga classes also becoming more popular than ever. According to the Physical Activity Council, class-based activities such as yoga have increased at least 3.5% from 2013 to 2018. 

As an eco-friendly bonus, yoga requires no electrical machines or equipment and can be done at home or at a gym. For the uninitiated, you can download yoga routines on sites like YouTube for free or head to a beginner yoga class if you want proper instruction from a certified teacher.

5

Join a Team Sport

volleyball
Image courtesy Beach Blast

You can make friends and help the environment by joining a team sport. For example, a neighborhood softball, volleyball or kickball team often practices outdoors. Plus many teams use recycled equipment, which saves on plastic and rubber manufacturing.

You can find inexpensive or even free teams to join through neighborhood associations, or your city might offer local recreation leagues that charge a nominal fee.

This type of activity is also becoming more commonplace. The Physical Activity Council says that total participation in these types of outdoor-based activities have increased the most since 2013 across the U.S. when compared to other physical activities.

6

Spinning Class or Weight Training

Spin Class
Photo © Flickr user plantronicsgermany

If you prefer to head to a gym rather than workout at home or the weather is too cold to work out outside, you can get in your cardio by taking a spinning class. The bikes don't use up electricity in the way a treadmill or stationary bike will that you find out on the gym floor.

You can also use free weights for your weight training. These don't use any electricity and are manufactured using less materials than the nautilus weight equipment you find on the gym floor.

7

Plogging

Man picking up trash.
Image Credit:PhotoAlto/Sandro Di Carlo Darsa /Getty Images

The name might not sound familiar, but plogging is an eco-friendly fitness activity. Instead of going out for nothing more than a run or a walk, you spend your time picking up trash along the way. Going for a hike? Bring a recyclable trash bag and pick up trash along the trail. Going for a run in your neighborhood? Make your neighbors proud by picking up trash you see near their homes.

Plogging gives you a double bonus of an environmentally-conscious workout. Hiking, running or walking are eco-friendly, and you leave the area where you exercised cleaner than how you found it.

8

Racing for a Cause

Thankful 13 Half Marathon and 5k Race

 Thankful 13

Most big cities offer races that fundraise for a cause, such as the popular Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, which supports breast cancer research. You can find a cause you support, sign up and walk/run in a 5K and know you are exercising for more than just your own health.

Even better, carpool to the event or find one not too far from where you live and get in extra miles by walking to and from the event, if your body can handle it.

9

Mountain Biking

Sacred Rides mountain biking tours
Sacred Rides

You can lessen your carbon footprint while exercising on two wheels and getting an adrenaline rush — and you don't need to have a lifelong background to try the sport. According to a characterization of almost 1,500 mountain bikers published in 2018 in Frontiers in Psychology, almost 60% of riders indicated they hadn't participated in mountain biking as a child.

In addition, almost 100% of the participants said they love being outdoors, more than 98% of them found that being outdoors helps them de-stress and just under 90% of the riders said that mountain biking helps them feel more connected to nature.

Harvard Health Publishing says that cycling offers the following health benefits:

  • Pedaling allows you build tone in your legs, which can increase bone density.
  • The sport is easy on the joints. For anyone who finds running or walking challenging, cycling could be a more viable option for you.
  • The gains you make from cycling can improve other physical activities. For example, climbing stairs, picking up your children or moving groceries into your cabinets can become easier.

You can also make your workout eco-friendly in more ways than just exercise. By following these activities, you could make a positive difference in the environment:

  1. Buy eco-friendly material. You wouldn't be alone in shopping for these product types. According to Statistia, the share of Americans who preferred to pay more for eco-friendly products is rising. In 2018, 19.07% out of more than 4,000 respondents ages 18 to 29 years said they paid more for eco-friendly products and services.
  2. Use recyclable water bottles or tin canisters you don’t throw away. Also look for PET (half liter) plastic bottles if you must purchase plastic bottled water. The average weight of a 16.9-ounce PET bottle reduced 51% from 2000 to 2014. This resulted in saving 6.2 billion pounds of PET resin. Manufacturers also require less energy to produce PET containers than glass or cans, says the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA).
  3. Donate your old workout clothes. With your gently-used workout clothes and accessories, you can drop them off at a place like Goodwill or at shelters and give them a worthwhile second life rather than have them dumped into a landfill.
    You can even go one better. Rather than head to the mall or buy new workout clothes online, you can purchase your own gently used workout gear and exercise equipment.
  4. Download music and/or podcasts. This way, you can put your cellphone in airplane mode when you listen to your playlist and avoid wasting the battery on your cellphone. Also, when gearing up to workout and you need to charge your phone, putting it in airplane mode will help you charge your phone faster and use less electricity.
  5. Skip the water fountain. When you use water fountains, some water ends up down the drain. You should fill up your water bottle before you leave home so no water goes to waste. You will find that many venues, including gyms, are now offering the type of water fountain that lets you fill up your water bottle rather than you needing to bend over and drink with your mouth.
    The demand for these types of water fountains has increased significantly from 2010 to 2015, according to Verify Markets, which might make them pop up at your local workout sites if they haven't already.
  6. Shop at farmer's markets. Visit your local farmer's market to purchase pre- and post-workout greens and seeds for smoothies. You'll be eating healthier, saving the environment from the gas used to transport produce and helping out your local farmers.
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Article Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Bratman GN, Hamilton JP, Hahn KS, et al. Nature Experience Reduces Rumination and Subgenual Prefrontal Cortex Activation. PNAS June 2015. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510459112

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Public Health Response to a Changing Climate. Updated July 18, 2018.

  • Harvard Health Publishing. The Top 5 Benefits of Cycling. Updated August 2016.

  • International Bottled Water Association. Recycling.

  • Mooses M, Tippi B, Mooses K, et al. Better Economy in Field Running than on the Treadmill: Evidence from High-Level Distance Runners. Biol Sport June 2015;32(2):155-159. doi: 10.5604/20831862.1144418

  • National Institute of on Aging at NIH. Strength.

  • National Park Service. Benefits of Hiking. Updated May 29, 2018

  • Physical Activity Council. 2019 Physical Activity Council’s Overview Report on U.S. Participation. 

  • Roberts L, Jones G and Brooks R. Why Do You Ride?: A Characterization of Mountain Bikers, Their Engagement Methods, and Perceived Links to Mental Health and Well-Being. Front Psychol 2018:9(1642). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01642

  • Statista. Share of Americans who Pay More for Eco-Friendly Products and Services in 2018, by Age. Updated October 2018.

  • Verify Markets. 2016 American Drinking Fountain Market.