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 regimen. 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 crisis.

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 take in sweeping 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 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 the 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 breathing rates, performed brain scans both pre and post-workout, and had participants complete questionnaires. 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), according to 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 always need to drive your car 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 your knees to 90 degrees and place your hands on the front of the chair. Keeping your feet hips-width apart, slowly lower down until your elbows bend to about 90 degrees and then press back up again.
  • 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), you should exercise with free weights twice a week.
  • Work on strengthening your hand grip with a simple tennis ball. You could also use a stress ball or any type of pliable 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 place your hands slightly wide of your shoulders. Use your body weight to lower and then push yourself back up.
  • 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 exercise
  • Breathe out when you lift or push; breathe in as you relax
  • Speak to your doctor if you are unsure about any exercises

You can also, keep your phone close by 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 (PAC), a survey of over 18,000 Americans showed that 67% of the U.S. population participated in group fitness and other gym-based activities in 2019, with nearly 18% of respondents participating in moderate calorie burning exercises like yoga. 

As an eco-friendly bonus, yoga does not require the use of machines and needs only minimal equipment (a mat, yoga blocks, and a strap), and can be done at home or at a gym. For the uninitiated, you can watch yoga videos on YouTube for free or subscribe to DoYogaWithMe. Try a beginner-level group class or consider private online or in-person instruction from a certified teacher. There are also a vast number of live streaming classes available on Zoom or apps such as Insight Timer.

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 will often play with used 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's 2019 survey found that just over half of the U.S. population participates in an outdoor sport, with Millennials and Gen Zers accounting for the majority of that demographic.

6

Spinning Class and 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 followed by some weight training. While many boutique spin classes use a ton of electricity, some gyms have begun to implement "people-powered" spin classes to power electricity in their facilities, according to TIME. And NPR reports that pedaling a bike at a steady pace can generate up to 100 watts of power. If we're lucky, maybe this trend will catch on.

Free weights are a great way to get some post-cardio strength training and conditioning in, since they don't use electricity and are manufactured using less materials than the nautilus weight equipment you typically 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 that originated in Sweden. 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—just 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 reduce 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 nearly 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.

Cycling offers the following health benefits:

  • Pedaling builds muscular strength in your legs
  • 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. The share of Americans who are willing to spend more for eco-friendly products and services is rising, with Generation Z consumers at the forefront. According to Statista, a 2019 survey of 1,500 Gen Zers showed that 37% would pay a premium for environmentally friendly and sustainable products.
  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. According to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), the average weight of a 16.9-ounce PET bottle reduced 51% from 2000 to 2014, saving 6.2 billion pounds of PET resin. Manufacturers also require less energy to produce PET containers than glass or cans.
  3. Donate your old workout clothes. Gather your gently-used workout clothes and accessories and drop them off at a Goodwill or Salvation Army, or at your local shelter. Give them a worthwhile second life rather than have them dumped into a landfill. And instead of buying yourself brand new workout clothes, consider purchasing your own second hand workout gear and exercise equipment.
  4. Download music and/or podcasts. This way, you can put your cellphone on airplane mode when you listen to your playlist and avoid wasting the battery on your cellphone. Also, when you're 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 means they could pop up at your local workout sites if they haven't already.
  6. Shop at farmers markets. Visit your local farmers market to purchase pre- and post-workout greens, fruits, nuts, and seeds for smoothies. You'll be eating healthier, saving the environment from the gas used to transport produce, and supporting the small business economy by helping out your local farmers.
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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Public Health Response to a Changing Climate. Updated July 18, 2018.

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

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  6. National Institute on Aging. Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability. Updated April 2, 2020.

  7. Physical Activity Council. 2020 Physical Activity Council’s Overview Report on U.S. Participation. 2020.

  8. Newcomb T. In the Gym: Clean Energy from Muscle Power. Updated December 2, 2010.

  9. McGuire J. Runner’s World. Plogging – the running craze that is saving the planet. May 6, 2019.

  10. Roberts L, Jones G, Brooks R. Why do you ride? : a characterization of mountain bikers, their engagement methods, and perceived links to mental health and well-beingFront Psychol. 2018;9:1642. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01642

  11. Ozaki H, Loenneke JP, Thiebaud RS, Abe T. Cycle training induces muscle hypertrophy and strength gain: strategies and mechanismsActa Physiol Hung. 2015;102(1):1-22. doi:10.1556/APhysiol.102.2015.1.1

  12. Reynolds G. The New York Times. Ask Well: Is It Better to Bike or Run?. August 29, 2013.

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  14. Statista. Generation Z consumers who are willing to pay a premium for environmentally sustainable products in Canada and the United States in 2019. October 12, 2020.

  15. International Bottled Water Association. Recycling.

  16. Verify Markets. 2016 American Drinking Fountain Market.

  17. Farmers Market Coalition. Farmers Markets Promote Sustainability.