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8 ways to protect your health -- and the planet

  • Story Highlights
  • Small changes -- to improve the planet's and your health -- can make a difference
  • Take shorter showers: They're better for your skin and use less water
  • Eat less red meat; fish is heart-friendlier, cattle production ups greenhouse gases
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By Kimberly Goad
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Health

Doing the environmentally correct thing can be a challenge. After all, there aren't many of us who actually have the time or enterprise to compost or the spare cash to replace the washer, dryer, or other appliances with the latest energy-efficient models.

Skip the screen-saver. Instead, program your computer to "sleep" after five minutes of inactivity.

Skip the screen-saver. Instead, program your computer to "sleep" after five minutes of inactivity.

But here's a convenient truth: Small changes really do make a big difference -- not only for the planet but for your own health -- and may even save you some money. Here, a few to try today.

Take shorter showers

Install a waterproof timer in your shower, and set it to five minutes. Even better: Replace your showerhead with one of the new "low-flow" or "water-saving" models. They're easy to install and available at home-improvement stores. Look for a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm) or less; older showerheads have flow rates of around 5.5 gpm. (And, don't worry, you'll still be able to get the suds out of your hair.)

Why it's good for the Earth: Using a low-flow showerhead, a family of four can conserve almost 15,000 gallons of water per year.

Why it's good for you: Hot water strips skin of its natural oils, so spending less time in the shower can result in better-hydrated skin. Health.com: How to detox your body

Bypass the dry cleaner

Buy fewer clothes labeled "dry-clean only." Also, look for a cleaner that wet-cleans, using nonhazardous solutions and special equipment. (Find out where the service is available in your state.) You can hand-wash many dry-clean-only garments in cold water, too.

Why it's good for the Earth: Perc (short for perchloroethylene), the standard solvent used in conventional dry cleaning, eventually breaks down into other chemicals -- some of which are toxic and may deplete the ozone layer, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Why it's good for you: In high doses, perc has been linked with dizziness, headaches, fatigue, nausea, and skin irritation

Go easy on beef

Make it a tuna or salmon burger instead.

Why it's good for the Earth: Red meat production is responsible for about two-and-a-half times more greenhouse-gas emissions than chicken or fish.

Why it's good for you: Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like tuna and salmon, not only are good for your heart (helping lower triglycerides and blood pressure) but can help prevent dry skin, too. Eat fish twice a week. Health.com: 10 easy ways to eat natural

Ditch air fresheners

Indoor air may be up to three times more polluted than the air outdoors, so go fresh the natural way by opening your windows. For a light, citrusy fragrance, place orange peel mixed with sage in small bowls throughout your home.

Why it's good for the Earth: The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tested 14 air fresheners and found that 12 contained phthalates, chemicals linked to hormone abnormalities, birth defects, and reproductive problems. Even products billed "all-natural" or "unscented" weren't chemical-free. Health.com: DIY air freshener: Spring citrus potpourri

Why it's good for you: In addition to phthalates, the NRDC says, air fresheners may contain allergens, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and cancer-causing chemicals like benzene and formaldehyde.

Buy organic coffee

Besides "Certified Organic," look for "Shade Grown" (a process that preserves more nutrients) and "Fair Trade" (these coffee farmers are paid a fair price, so they don't look for growing shortcuts). Health.com: Organic living with "Bones" star Emily Deschanel

Why it's good for the Earth: Pesticides and fertilizers used in conventional coffee production can harm soil and seep into water supplies.

Why it's good for you: Fewer synthetic agents involved in chemical treatment means a healthier cup of Joe.

Skip the liquid soap

Stick with the bar kind.

Why it's good for the Earth: Many liquid soaps, though convenient, contain triclosan, an antibiotic agent toxic to wildlife.

Why it's good for you: You can easily overdo it with liquid soap, which can dry out your skin and make it susceptible to germs. Plus, antibacterial soaps don't always deliver the germ-killing benefits they promise.

Toss that flea collar

Baths are a great way to de-flea your pet sans chemicals. Wash your animal friend's bedding in hot water once a week, too.

Why it's good for the Earth: Pesticides used in flea collars may contain toxic chemicals, including possible carcinogens, that can contaminate water.

Why it's good for you: Many pesticides are designed to obstruct the nervous systems of bugs. But they can also interfere with human hormones over time, says Sarah Janssen, M.D., NRDC environmental-health expert.

Nix the screen saver

Set your computer to "sleep" after five minutes of inactivity.

Why it's good for the Earth: Animated screen savers consume electricity unnecessarily, says Taylor Grant, executive environmental advisor of the Environmental Media Association.

Why it's good for you: Eco-psychologists say even a small Earth-friendly gesture can have a positive affect on mental health.

Enter to win a monthly Room Makeover Giveaway from MyHomeIdeas.com

Copyright Health Magazine 2009

All About Nature and the EnvironmentPetsPersonal ComputersOrganic Foods

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