Fitness is not just eating right. Nor is it just exercising. Fitness is a beautiful symphony of eating right to fuel your exercise and exercising to promote other healthy habits. Exercise doesn’t do us much good if we aren’t nourished, but if we don’t move, we won’t see amazing results. Exercise and nutrition go hand in hand.

John Ratey, renowned expert in fitness and optimal living, tells us in his book Spark that exercise is “like taking a little bit of Ritalin and little bit of Prozac”. The benefits to exercise are plentiful. It allows us to focus, gives us mental clarity, helps us lose weight, or gain muscle. Exercise is known to help alleviate symptoms of depression. As counter intuitive as it may seem, exercising also helps increase overall energy. Yes, you exhaust yourself with a workout, but up to thirty minutes after a workout, you will feel refreshed and energized. Exercise improves our mood, helps us sleep better at night, and promotes healthy skin and complexion. Really. What’s not to love?

In The Nature Principle by Richard Louv, the benefits of exercise are amplified by taking ourselves outside. By going outdoors, we get daily doses of fresh air and vitamin D. Vitamin D is known to combat depression and promote stronger, healthier bones. One of the best sources of getting vitamin D is through absorption from the sun. Just ten minutes a day in the sun can provide our bodies with over 10,000 IU of vitamin D.

As an environmentalist, I found an added benefit to exercising outdoors. The more time we spend outdoors, the more we gain appreciation for nature, wildlife, and the environment. The more we appreciate nature, the more we are inspired and motivated to care for it. There is a sense of pride and ownership. When we see trash at our favorite park, we are more inclined to pick it up than if we have never visited it before. It’s like “This is MY park, and I want it to look beautiful.”

There are many ways to incorporate conservation into our workout routine. Instead of running on a treadmill or elliptical, take a walk outside. You’ll save money from paying an expensive gym, and you’ll also save electricity. If it’s raining, wear a jacket, but go for your walk. If it’s cold, wear layers so you can peel them off as you warm up from your activity. Walking and jogging are one of the cheapest methods of exercise, and it has a profound impact on the environment. Not just in appreciation for the outdoors, but when we walk more, we use less electricity, less resources, and decrease our carbon footprint.

A new trend in fitness is an activity called “plogging”. Plogging is jogging/power walking while picking up trash on a trail, beach, or sidewalk. What a fantastic way to get some exercise, while doing something positive for the planet!

Riding your bike or simply walking to your destination instead of driving will help you get in better shape. Even a short bike ride to the library, or the farmers’ market store adds up. Every activity where you move more than usual burns calories. And every mile you don’t drive your car decreases your carbon footprint. Changing your habit from driving everywhere to riding your bike, walking, or other human powered transportation is a win-win for you and the planet.

If biking or walking to work is impossible for you, there are other ways to get outdoors and promote conservation fitness in your day to day routine. Go for a walk during your lunch break, or right after work. Let the walk serve as a miniature workout, and as a decompression from your day. Go to a park and play fetch with your dog. Start a garden, even a small container garden. Plan a visit to a zoo, botanical garden, or museum. Take some time on your weekend to relax in nature- go cloud watching, take up birding, or find a patch of clovers and look for four-leafed clovers. These seemingly small gestures work toward growing our love for the outdoors and nature. The more we love something, the more we want to do that activity.

Another aspect of conservation fitness is cutting down our waste. When I was a zookeeper, I didn’t throw anything away. You never knew what could be great enrichment for your animals. Yogurt containers used for hide and seek. Boat fenders were fabulous toys for nearly every animal.  They were durable enough to withstand elephants stomping on them, and versatile enough to let penguins, raccoons, and primates play with them. I made mobiles for birds out of plastic lids, and a farm animal scratching post out of worn out scrub brushes.

I applied the same principle to my fitness. I turned a deflated basketball into a wonderful medicine ball. I changed salad and tofu containers, which are non-recyclable in my area into distance markers and workout tools. I saved a broken rake handle and use it as a stretching tool before my workouts. These pieces of equipment help make my workouts more engaging, more challenging, and a lot more fun. What’s more, I’m not just reducing my waste, I’m reducing my waist in the process. Try some of my projects out, and soon you’ll be reusing, recycling, reducing your waist, too.

Working out doesn’t have to be drag. I play games, reusing old kids’ games like Memory, Go Fish, and even Easter eggs to provide fun, engaging workouts which are more like recess than exercise. Playing outside makes me feel like a kid- alive, energetic, and enthusiastic.

Go outside and have some fun. Get your sweat on and help yourself reach your goals while saving the planet.