Why running and the environment go hand in hand

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I was never among the athletic kids in school. I remember very sporadic attempts at sports. I played soccer for two summer seasons and baseball for one. I failed a swimming test early on, so I begged my mom to stop going. I came sixth at track and field events on two occasions — when there were six people competing. I could go on, but I think we get the idea.

It wasn’t until university when I started trying much harder. I remember one day where a bunch of friends and I decided to go do laps around the track, which wasn’t a thing I had ever really done. I actually enjoyed myself! And it felt good to get away from the textbooks and the screen and do something for my physical and mental health.

Over those four years, I became much more active, especially in swimming, biking and running. My housemates were training for triathlons and many of them were on the rowing team, so I often tagged along on workouts. They were often much more capable than I was, and I didn’t mind that at all. It was nice to be chasing folks down the track or down the swimming lane — I found it inspiring, more than anything.

It was those same four years where I started learning more about environmental matters and being more active in the environmental community. We started The Starfish Canada when I was in university, and launched our Top 25 Environmentalists Under 25 program soon after. It was at McMaster University where I started learning about how our youngest people could benefit from less screen time and more time in nature.

I learned about Nature Deficit Disorder and how spending more time outdoors could genuinely help many people with some of the physical, mental and emotional aspects of their life. I learned about urban-rural development and how the built-up environment can often create stress in our lives and how access to even the smallest parks and natural areas can provide really amazing health benefits.

I recall reading in “Planet Heart” how drastic temperatures can differ between urban areas and their peripheries. It was true for a few of my commutes when I lived in Burnaby (the municipality east of Vancouver). When I biked into the city, I’d start being super cold in my home near forested areas, and when entering the city, it would feel like a completely warmer place (I swear it wasn’t just because I was exercising).

It’s no surprise that environmental matters and physical activity can go hand in hand. Putting on the runners and getting out to a place with some trees and fresh air can go a long way. You can help yourself by elevating your heart rate and exercising your body while also benefiting from everything the outdoors can offer - vitamin D from the sun, peace and serenity from the air and surrounding foliage, and maybe even some moisture from the rain.

When I started doing work in environmental nonprofits, I often found that the act of getting outside was essentially necessary and encouraged. When you work in conservation and amplifying the work of young environmental leaders, the act of going outside was a fresh reminder of why you do the work. Without sounding overly cliche, it’s a good reminder of how privileged we can be to be able to access such great wilderness in our country. We have a bounty of natural areas, often at our fingertips (with many barriers still existing for many trying to access those spaces).

When I’m able to get out on trails or make my way to provincial or national parks, I often think about how fortunate we are to have these places. What would they look like if we developed over them, or removed a keystone species, or introduced an invasive species here? It simply wouldn’t be the same. Limiting our human interventions here have so many benefits that aren’t captured in our traditional economy, making advocacy work that much more important.

Environmental matters aren’t just about ethics — it’s about our health, too. They provide spaces for people to breathe deeply, to enjoy the trails with friends and family, and to soak in the benefits that nature can provide us. I run, often as a part of fundraising efforts for environmental causes, because I genuinely don’t see much difference between the two. To have healthy people, we need spaces that make us healthy. And that’s exactly what the environment can provide for us.


About the author

Kyle is a civic engagement specialist with a masters degree from Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management. Kyle hopes to bring guidance and mentorship to The Starfish Canada as it grows and develops into a common source for youth engagement for Canadians. In his spare time, Kyle likes to swim, run and cycle (although has yet to attempt a triathlon).