March 8 , 2023


An active lifestyle is important for our physical health, from building strength to boosting our immune systems. But, whether it’s doing a sport or being active in the gym or at home, we also enjoy a mental health boost from physical activity.

An active lifestyle is important for our physical health, from building strength to boosting our immune systems. But, whether it’s doing a sport or being active in the gym or at home, we also enjoy a mental health boost from physical activity

There are plenty of positives around sport and physical activity, and it’s another opportunity to rethink the environmental impact of everything we do – and sport is no different. As with all aspects of our lives, we can look at sport through a sustainability lens to discover which are the most climate  friendly, so you can enjoy being active and know you are contributing towards environmental sustainability.

Running, walking and hiking

Perhaps the most obvious eco-friendly sports are those that require little-to-no equipment. Running, walking and hiking are great ways to engage in physical activity with minimal impact. Barring a pair of running trainers or hiking boots, we don’t need anything else to enjoy these active travel methods.

Being amongst nature is also great for our mental well-being and is known to boost positive emotions while reducing stress and anxiety. Whether you join any number of organised walking groups or plan a countryside hike with friends, a brisk walk encourages everyone to lead a healthy lifestyle and enjoy the great outdoors. In addition, there are inclusive and organised groups that have made huge strides in promoting healthier activities for people across all walks of life. 

In October 2014, for example, the inaugural Parkrun took place in Teddington’s Bushy Park, and ever since, the volunteer-led, free-for-all 5k and 2k Parkruns have grown in popularity and participants across the UK and abroad. Other accessible eco-friendly sport initiatives in the UK include Good Gym, a national community who combine good deeds with keeping fit and support vulnerable people. 

When engaging in any of these exercises or group activities, people can reduce their impact further by using reusable water bottles. During races, for instance, swapping to recycled paper for running numbers and reducing the number of unnecessary giveaways or switching to alternative materials like wooden medals, can all make a positive difference.

Simply going for a walk or run helps to minimise noise and air pollution as we don’t need to travel by car while also helping to protect green spaces. In fact, the more people who walk, run and hike, the greater the appetite for maintaining green spaces, helping to protect the environment as people fight to prevent their loss.

Cycling without damaging the environment

Like walking and running, cycling is a great way to pack in physical activity without damaging the environment. Not only is it a great way to exercise without producing emissions but it’s also perfect for covering larger distances, either for commuting, visiting friends or popping to the shops. 

In addition to some of the organised runs and walks mentioned earlier, there are numerous cycling groups who welcome new members (whatever your age or ability) throughout the year. GoodGym and other initiatives like the British Cycling’s Breeze programme both actively encourage more women to take up the sport. 

Choosing a bike over a car just once a day reduces the average person’s carbon emissions from transportation by 67% – a good reason to look into your company’s Cycle to Work policy or advocate having one! 

With the development of more and more cycle paths across the UK, we are seeing cyclists take to the roads in greater numbers during commuting hours. But unlike cars, we can also take our bicycles into local parks to enjoy family bike rides or through cycle paths in national parks to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Whichever sustainable sport you choose, there are numerous events throughout the year that you can either participate in for the pure joy of taking part, compete in for your own Personal Best (PB), or to support in aid of a charitable cause. 

Some examples of popular and sustainable swim events include the Bude Shoreline Triathlon, the New Forest Marathon, OTILLO and the Bantham Swoosh to name a few. For more outdoor swim information and advice on cold swimming locations, the Outdoor Swimming Society has a growing number of members and is awash with events, swim tips and events.  

Swimming outdoors 

While it may be more comfortable to swim in an indoor pool, there is no substitute for enjoying some open water swimming (often called wild swimming) to engage in a sustainable sport. Whether it’s a swim at the beach, a slow-moving river or a naturally formed pool, outdoor swimming avoids the harsh chemicals associated with pools. It is also hugely beneficial as it helps to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol fat disposition and the chances of clotting through cold water adaptation.

But we must treat the water we swim in with the appropriate care, such as using eco-friendly sun cream to avoid contaminating the water while also being respectful and keeping our distance from nesting sites and reeds which may be home to fish or birds.

There is nothing wrong with making a day of wild swimming and bringing a picnic but ensure that you leave nothing behind; you may even wish to bring a bag and take any rubbish you find as a way to help preserve the environment further.

Enjoying yoga

Sports that require little to no equipment or travel are inherently sustainable, and yoga is another great way to stay active while reducing your carbon emissions. Yoga can be done in your home, garden, online or on any green or outdoor space to help you to practise mindfulness, boost your mental health and immerse yourself in nature.

Like shopping for used sportswear on places like Facebook Marketplace, you can find sustainable ways to buy equipment through online sites such as Depop. These will help you to buy premium and longer-lasting yoga mats and yoga essentials for less as well as lowering your footprint further. Yoga also helps to teach us to respect nature more, encouraging environmental sustainability because of its mind-body-planet connection.

Playing sustainable ball sports

Ball sports such as basketball or football can have a minimal environmental impact despite their popularity. Sure, the supply chain and manufacturing of balls, boots, trainers, etc., is nothing to ignore but equally with little more than a ball you can enjoy these sports.

Jumpers for goalposts remains a popular way for kids and adults across the country to enjoy this sport in their local parks, while a single basketball hoop can entertain one basketball fan for hours. At grassroots level, football is a low-impact sport that helps ensure parks keep their green spaces to be enjoyed throughout the year. In addition, being selective about the sports kit you buy and wear can make a huge difference. 

Opt for sportswear that is recycled and, whenever possible, repurpose clothes with charity donations and reuse old garments by mending and repairing them whenever possible. As the UK is experiencing a cost of living crisis, it has never been a better time to support brands like Play It Again Sport and the Lord Taverners Kit Recycling programme who are making huge efforts on the sustainability front.

In other ways, be mindful of any sports travel you do on a local level. Your environmental impact can be further reduced if grassroots players cycle to local games and matches, or engage in lift shares to minimise their team’s emissions. 

Play your part in environmental sustainability.

Article by Annie Button

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