Help the planet through exercise

Just over a year ago, the effects of being mostly desk-bound for 5 years were really starting to show on me. But with some minor lifestyle changes, I’ve lost around 15 pounds – and the local environment has lost many times that in terms of garbage!

I used to be one of those people who could eat whatever they liked and not put on any weight, but I had more of an active lifestyle in those days. Starting in 2001, I began working full time from home.. and then the inches and pounds began to creep up on me.

Even though I had a small property in the outback for a few years which kept me active for a week each month in revegetation and general maintenance tasks, I’d lose a couple of pounds during that week and then put more on when back in the rat race.

It was a war of attrition and I was starting to feel pretty terrible about myself; not just physically – I was taking too much from the planet and not giving much back. My waistline was evidence of that.

A an important change occurred for me when my father was hospitalized, needing a heart valve replacement. I travelled interstate to be with him; but my hotel room was around a mile away from the hospital – up a rather steep, long hill. My first visit on foot had my legs feeling like they were on fire by the time I got to the hospital. That same walk would have been nothing 5 years ago.

Overweight, very unfit and seeing what  could happen to me in terms of my Dad’s operation were good motivators for the next step. Believe me, seeing someone you know and love come out of open heart surgery with all manner of tubes coming out of them is somewhat of an eye opener.

During that week I was with my Dad, my legs started responding to the exercise. When I got back home, I decided that I didn’t want to waste the little progress I had made. I was going to need to continue with exercising.

I’m someone who absolutely detests exercise for the sake of excercise. Physical labor needs to have some sort of productive outcome for me, aside from just good health – another goal must be achieved.

I find jogging around suburban streets or running on a treadmill to be a little like the mouse that runs in a wheel, or idling a car engine needlessly. It’s wasteful and rather pointless if it only serves to sustain over consumption. Why pile food into our bodies and then say “I’ll run this off”? I’ve never really understood it. That’s just my opinion – no attacks from the Nike brigade please :).

I then began walking through the local bushland, something I had been meaning to do since moving here as I love the bush. I noticed the place was covered in litter and was being generally abused which sent my already high blood pressure through the roof! I could see that no-one had cleaned up the area for a very long time. I fumed and moaned to the local authorities for a while; got nowhere fast due to a lack of government resources and then I said “OK, I’ll clean the damned place up myself!”.

.. and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I submitted details of my clean-up project to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (who are responsible for the area) and joined a local environmental group who take care of other sections of the reserve.

5-6 days a week, I pick up trash, repair fences and perform general monitoring duties in the local bush reserve; reporting back to the group and head ranger of progress and issues.

Each round takes me about half an hour to forty minutes of brisk walking, stopping and starting to pick up rubbish and travelling over uneven ground. It’s a large area, so I can visit different parts each day. It’s been great exercise for me and I no longer feel the Grim Reaper tapping me so hard on the shoulder as he was around a year ago.

If you’re thinking of getting into an exercise regime, or currently exercising; perhaps this is something you could do too. Take a look around your local parklands, streets and reserves. Do they need cleaning up? Get in touch with local authorities to get their blessing and support first – they’ll often be only too pleased to have an extra set of hands if their resources are stretched. Others who see you doing this may also be motivated to do the same and it’s a great example to set your children.

I’ve found the work quite humbling too – I’m what I’d guess you’d call an “executive” in my other job; but I start most days cleaning up diapers and other sorts of unspeakable trash at times. It helps ground me. The work also makes me more conscious of just how important reserves and parks are – they aren’t just a bunch of trees, they are habitats and should be an oasis amongst the filth of a city or town. Dealing with this rubbish also makes me more conscious of our own garbage output.. and we certainly still have some work to do in that aspect.

If your lifestyle and circumstances allows for it; throw away (recycle) your Dr. Phil books, donate the treadmill to charity, forget about yo-yo diets, swap the expensive sweat-shop made designer jogging shoes for some hiking boots – get out there and clean up your local environment instead.

You’ll not only feel and look better, you will play a small but very important part in taking care of Planet Earth; and the feeling from this hands-on work money just can’t buy.