All life on our planet is interconnected, so what’s good for your health is often good for the planet’s health, too.
Big changes are needed to tackle the climate and ecological crises and make our planet healthier for us all. Each one of us can contribute to these changes and make a difference by working together in our communities and beyond.
Here are nine things you can do that will have a positive impact on both your health and the planet.
What would make your local environment healthier for everyone? Would you like to see more accessible green spaces, less air pollution, safer streets, or more energy efficient homes?
Health and climate change are interlinked with many other issues, such as social justice and inequality. Work out what matters to you, and where you could make a difference, and use your voice to push for change. Connecting with others and taking action together not only has more impact, it can also help us to feel less alone and boost our mental health.
Communicate your ideas, listen to others, and support them in making their voices heard. See if you can join a group in your community or online, or look into setting one up – here are some examples for inspiration.
Talk to your employer, school, or university about making your workplace, playground or campus healthier and more environmentally friendly. Could there be better outdoor spaces, or plants in offices, canteens or classrooms? Could buildings be more energy efficient? Could bike racks or changing facilities be provided?
When voting in elections, choose candidates who prioritise climate issues and public health. Get in touch with your local councillors about changes which would help people to have healthier and more sustainable lifestyles. If you live in the UK, find out who your MP is and the best way to contact them. You could send them a letter, or share this information about the co-benefits of climate action for improving public health.
Reducing the amount of dairy and meat in your diet – especially beef and lamb – is one of the biggest changes you can make to reduce your environmental impact. Eating less meat also has health benefits, such as reducing the risk of certain cancers and heart disease.
Try making your favourite meals without meat, and eat more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds. As well as being better for the planet, plant-based, wholefood diets increase life expectancy and reduce your risk of serious diseases. The Mediterranean diet is linked with improved mental health, mood and wellbeing, too.
Choosing less highly processed products also has benefits for your health and the planet. It can be cheaper and healthier to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients, rather than buying ready meals, or drink tap water instead of sugary drinks in plastic bottles.
Try to eat seasonal fruit and veg grown locally in the UK or Europe – it will make your diet more varied and environmentally friendly. Recipes including seasonal items are available online and from supermarkets. There are lots of veg box schemes selling local, seasonal produce. Or, if you can, try growing your own to reduce your carbon footprint even more.
Finally, if you do eat meat and fish from time to time, go for sustainably sourced, UK-reared, and free-range, where possible. Make your food go further and use up leftovers to minimise waste, save money and reduce emissions.
Air pollution is a major contributor to climate change and is linked with 40,000 deaths each year in the UK. It causes many serious physical and mental health conditions, and affects vulnerable members of society most acutely, even impacting unborn babies' health.
Much of the air pollution we’re exposed to in our daily lives comes from traffic. Reducing your use of cars is the best way to combat this. Walk and cycle, if you can, particularly for shorter journeys. This will reduce emissions and help create safer roads, while also saving you money and benefitting your physical and mental health. Increasing physical activity helps to maintain a healthy weight and reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and depression.
Active travel can be social, too – try walking or cycling with friends and family, such as on the school run. Check out these tips for cycling in a city and find out more about inclusive cycling charities, such as Cycling Projects. Use tools to plan routes avoiding air pollution hotspots, if possible. Let others know about safe routes or cycle storage facilities, or get involved with a buddy scheme for new cyclists.
Using public transport has a lower environmental impact than a car. To boost your step count, get off the bus or train one stop early, or walk part of the journey. Apps like City Mapper can help with planning your trips.
If walking and cycling aren’t easy where you live, you could campaign for safer roads for pedestrians and cyclists, with better street lighting, cycle lanes, lower speed limits in residential areas, air quality monitoring, or low-traffic neighbourhoods.
Illnesses related to cold and damp homes cost the NHS £895 million per year.
Having a well-insulated, warm home has benefits for our mental and physical health and also reduces energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions. This means campaigning for change is really important.
If you’re in rented accommodation, approach your landlord or housing association if your home isn’t warm or doesn’t reach Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards. Organisations such as Citizens’ Advice provide guidance on this.
If you own your home, consider adding more loft or wall insulation, better-insulated or double-glazed windows, or draught-proofing. Support and grants may be available, and charities offer free energy saving advice.
Having plants in your home or garden is a great way to boost your mental health and wellbeing.
Potted plants or herbs on windowsills or balconies are good places to start. You can buy low-cost plants and seeds at your local market, supermarket or community garden centre, and share plant cuttings with friends and family.
If you have a garden, plant pollinator-friendly species, like wildflowers, to attract wildlife and improve biodiversity. Gardening has mental and physical health benefits; it gets us active and helps to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Children often love gardening, too – see if their school could start a gardening club, or plant ivy to reduce air pollution.
If you don’t have outdoor space at home, allotments or community gardens can be great places to grow your own fruit and veg. Check out Social Farms & Gardens, for example, to find community garden projects in your local area or for guidance on how to set one up. There are also lots of organisations bringing communities together through gardening and providing inclusive opportunities for all.
Spending time in the great outdoors, from parks and forests to rivers and beaches, is one of the best ways to relieve stress and improve our mental health.
Take some time to notice and appreciate the sights, sounds and smells to help you relax. Try an activity like birdwatching or improve your fitness by going for a walk, run or cycle with a friend or family member.
If there aren’t accessible natural spaces nearby, you could look into campaigning to help ensure everyone can enjoy their benefits.
As well as reducing air pollution and absorbing carbon, these spaces help protect us from the impacts of a warming planet. They help to reduce the impact of extreme weather events such as floods, and keep urban areas cooler in the summer.
Getting involved in protecting and restoring these important spaces is a great way to help look after them and meet new people. You could take part in conservation activities, beach cleans, tree planting, or litter picking. Check out organisations like Fields in Trust and the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces for advice and resources. You could also speak up to protect these spaces, via a campaign, on social media or by contacting your MP.
Everything we buy has an impact on the planet – and our health.
We are bombarded with adverts encouraging us to buy things, but research shows that buying items we don’t need doesn’t make us any happier. In fact, experiences, rather than things, have a bigger impact on our happiness.
Instead of buying new items, repair and re-use things you already own to make them last as long as possible, avoid single-use items, buy second-hand, share with friends, family and colleagues (especially rarely used items like DIY tools) and make your own things. These are all more environmentally friendly options and can save you money, too. Look into borrowing household items via Library of Things, and check out Olio, a free app for sharing surplus food and household items, so they don’t just get thrown away.
Be critical about where you buy from. Look at companies’ sustainability credentials and let them know if their products aren’t made to last or use too much packaging. When you can no longer use an item, donate, recycle or carefully dispose of it to minimise its environmental impact as much as possible.
Learning about how the climate may change in your area, and how to manage these impacts, can help you feel more prepared.
Actions to tackle climate change can also help us adapt to its impacts. For example, increasing the amount of green space around your home, rather than paving over or tarmacking gardens, can soak up excess water and help reduce flood risk. It will also reduce extreme temperatures, while improving biodiversity and absorbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Look at flood risk and sea level change maps to see if your area could be affected by climate impacts. If you are in a flood risk area, register for flood alerts and make a plan to follow if a flood did happen. If you own your home, take a look at this guide to see how you could reduce the risk of flooding.
Speak to your neighbours and find out if there are any community initiatives in your local area, such as mutual aid groups. If there aren’t any, consider joining forces to start your own to support each other and particularly those who are vulnerable.
Climate change can feel overwhelming, causing us to experience a range of emotions, from ‘eco-anxiety’ to hopelessness and anger. Acknowledge and accept how you feel – this is a big issue, so strong feelings are normal and many others will share them.
Have open conversations about climate change, health and how you are feeling. Listen to what others have to say, and talk about what you’re doing for your health and the planet at home, work, university, or school, and in your local and online communities. Share ideas and work through any challenges with others. It’s important that we look out for each other so we can all enjoy a healthy body, mind and planet.
For further support see:
- Royal College of Psychiatrists advice on managing eco distress for young people
- Royal College of Psychiatrists advice for parents and carers on eco distress
- Climate Psychology Alliance climate anxiety resources for young people
- Climate Psychology Alliance climate anxiety resources for parents, teachers and carers
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