5 Simple Ways to Make Your Wellness Routine More Sustainable

Being good to the earth and your body aren’t mutually exclusive.

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Taking care of your body is one of the best things you can do for your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. But sometimes, what’s good for your health isn’t so great for the health of our planet. 

“When it comes to our health habits, we tend to rely heavily on non-renewable natural resources like gas and nuclear energy,” says Brittany Michels, a personal trainer, registered dietitian nutritionist, and sustainable wellness enthusiast who works for The Vitamin Shoppe. The good news for those trying to be more eco-conscious? There are small tweaks that can make a wellness routine far more sustainable. 

While it may not seem like it, “even small habit changes can positively impact future generations,” Michels says. Maybe you swap your usual protein powder for an eco-friendly option like Natreve's MOOLESS Animal-Free Whey or work out at home so you don’t use the plethora of resources needed to keep a fancy gym afloat. And these ideas are just the tip of the iceberg. Ahead, Michels shares five simple ways to reduce your carbon emissions and waste production while still fostering your personal health goals.

1. Ditch Your Gym Membership

Many workout facilities have things like air conditioning systems, 24/7 lighting, cotton towels, showers, steam rooms, saunas, and vending machines, all of which eat up staggering amounts of water and energy and stress major ecosystems. Plus, it’s not uncommon for gyms to replace still-working treadmills and ellipticals for newer, flashier models, which is the exact opposite of sustainable. 

Working out at home—whether exclusively or occasionally—means you’re contributing less to the problem. To keep home sweat sessions fun, Michels suggests joining a virtual fitness community (think: obé Fitness or Apple Fitness+), which provides thousands of classes on-demand. You could also head outside for some carbon-neutral training methods like biking, running, or walking, Michels suggests. Another great option is doing bodyweight Tabata workouts, which involve 20 seconds of “work” and 10 seconds of rest for eight repetitions. For the work portion, pick from movements such as air squats, sit-ups, push-ups, planks, burpees, lunges, and high knees, and cycle through two total rounds for a sustainable full-body workout. 

2. Try an Eco-Friendly Protein Powder

If you squeeze in workouts before meeting friends or heading to work, you might rely on protein powders to refuel post-pump. But spoiler: Protein powders aren’t always the most eco-friendly, especially those made from whey, which is derived from cow’s milk. “Because of the large amounts of fossil fuel, water, and grain feed used to support agricultural animals, industrialized meat and dairy are some of the highest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions,” Michels explains. 

Mooless product imagery
MOOLESS is a sustainable alternative to traditional whey protein powder. A 10-serving package costs $39.99.

There are a handful of companies, however, that have created revolutionary ways to improve the environmental impact of the animal-derived food production process. One such brand, MOOLESS, is a favorite of Michels’. “They’re a plastic and carbon-neutral wellness brand that makes animal-free whey protein powder that’s nutritionally identical to dairy-based whey,” she explains. “Plus, they come in great flavors like strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, and cookies and cream.”

To create this innovative product, the company used a microflora (read: bacteria) strain that replicates the genetic instructions of beta-lactoglobulin, a type of whey protein. By manufacturing the components of milk without cows, the company says they’re able to use 99% less water and 60% less energy than conventional whey protein powders, Michels tells us. 

3. Eat More Plants

If step one in "greenifying" your diet is swapping your protein powder, step two is changing how you approach your other snacks and meals. According to a recent study, the diets found to be lowest in greenhouse gas emissions contained the least amount of animal-derived products.

If you’re not ready to give up meat and conventional dairy entirely, make meals more sustainable by allowing plants to be the “main event” and relegating meat to a “supporting player,” suggests Michels. This might mean making a quinoa and veggie entree and serving it with half a turkey burger instead of having a whole turkey burger with a side of quinoa and veggies, for example. You can use a similar approach to snack time. Instead of having something packaged and animal-derived (think: yogurt or string cheese), reach for a piece of fruit and some nuts.   

4. Plan Ahead

Person holding apple as they pack lunchbox

A wise man once said, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail,” and this definitely holds true when it comes to health and sustainability. Little things like home-brewing coffee and packing a lunch can add up and positively impact the planet and your wellness, Michels notes. “Research shows that people tend to consume fewer calories when they prep food at home, and when you’re not driving to a restaurant or cafe to pick up your food, you’re saving gas and not using throwaway items like to-go cups and containers,” Michels explains.

You can also give back to Mother Earth by using reusable shopping bags and water bottles day-to-day instead of single use options. And if you find yourself at a concert or event, Michels advises forgoing the freebees (since they often end up in the trash) and bringing a hydration pack so you can avoid the single-use cups. 

5. Shop (and Discard) Responsibility 

A large portion of donated clothing ends up in landfills, contributing to the 11.3 million tons of textile waste generated in the U.S. each year. So the next time you need to get rid of your stretched-out leggings or old gym tee, consider selling the items directly to a consumer via an app like Poshmark or giving them to a textile recycling service in your area. (The American Textile Recycling Service has bins throughout the country.) 

On the flip side, if you’re in the market for new fitness equipment or clothing, Michels says to consider buying used instead of new. Many people snatch up flashy new machines and outfits, only to use them a few times and resell them. In other words: There are lots of great items out there! Not only will this approach save you money, but recycling cuts down on manufacturing, transportation-related emissions, and energy usage, so it’s a win-win!

Thankfully, many sustainable wellness options are easy. From switching out your protein sources to skipping the gym for a home workout, there are plenty of easy ways to make your wellness routine more sustainable. So go on—grab that reusable water bottle and start tweaking your routine to be a little more environmentally friendly. It’s doing far more good than you think!