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Fad or trend diets are not new to us—Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, and even the Cookie Diet—the first ones popping up around the 19th century. They’ll always be around; however, according to a new study from The NPD Group, the number of people on diets has declined by more than 35 percent over the past 21 years. Is this due to the shift in what is perceived as a healthy weight? Or is it a result of people trying to be overall healthier rather than testing out fad diets? I choose to believe the latter.

You see, it hasn’t just been about improving ones diet; more and more people are embracing being ‘green.’ Americans have taken it upon themselves to join a global movement to conserve, to drive the development of eco-friendly consumption, to buy hybrids, or choose an alternative to driving alone. More and more people recycle, turn their yards into gardens, and understand the connection between saving money, helping the environment, and improving their health.

We are also seeing an increase in the use of commute options. On any given workday in metro Atlanta, around 400,000 people use commute alternatives, such as carpooling, vanpooling, using transit, or riding their bike. With busy schedules, family obligations and the day-to-day rigmarole, commuters have a hard time finding time to stay fit. By biking or walking at least part of the way into work, commuters are able get in a work out and have time to make dinner or take the kids to soccer practice. The European Journal of Epidemiology research found that commuting physical activity, independent of leisure time physical activity, was associated with a healthier level of most of the cardiovascular risk factors.

Individuals aren’t the only ones trying to make a difference in our environment and wellness. Alcoa, a maker of aluminum products, introduced an architectural panel that is not only self-cleaning but also cleans the air around it. Basically, it eats smog. If enough buildings use the product, it could have a significant impact on the air we all breathe as 10,000 square feet of its panels have the air-cleansing power of about 80 trees. Additionally, city officials in Chicago dubbed a two mile stretch of Cermak Road “the greenest street in America.” The street uses a pavement that reduces air pollution and was upgraded using various green technologies as part of a project to explore how sustainability in infrastructure can help solve larger environmental problems.

While our perceptions towards healthy weights may have changed over the past two decades, our attitudes towards keeping our bodies, minds, and planet healthy have improved. If you’re interested in being healthier you can choose to eat better, work out more, learn about the health effects of poor air quality, or switch up your commute. Even the smallest adjustments can make a big difference.

Jenny Schultz is the Communications Specialist with The Clean Air Campaign, one of several organizations in the Atlanta region that deliver Georgia Commute Options programs and services in partnership with the Georgia Department of Transportation. Jenny commutes by MARTA rail and currently spends her time on the train reading "Stranger in a Strange Land." 

What's good for your wallet, your safety and the environment is also good for your well-being. What is clean commuting doing for the physical and mental health of Georgians?

1. Shrinking Waistlines
We're starting to see more stories come in lately from commuters who have found they can turn their commutes into workout regimens, shedding pounds and improving their physical health. It's a timely topic given the ongoing discussion about healthcare and the fact that Georgia ranks 14th in obesity among adults (and 3rd for children).

But for the die-hard bicycle commuters and the folks who strap on their walking shoes, it seems to go deeper. One walking commuter tells us she's lost 70 pounds via her daily stroll to the office, and in the process her first choice now is always to walk when practical. And a bicycling commuter describes how he "went from 250 lbs (heaviest) to 185 lbs on a 6' 2" body frame. My doctor says my health report looks like that of an athlete." Another rider tells us bicycling to work "allows me to take in the beauty of the city that sometimes we overlook as we hurriedly rush by in our cars. It also allows me time to plan out my day and get energized before I hit the office."

Employers and property managers are increasingly responding to the needs of their bicycling and walking employees, too, through programs like Commuter Choice and with deals arranged via nearby fitness clubs to provide access to showers. RideSmart even makes a "Bike Buddy" service available to help bicycling commuters in Atlanta find riding partners.

2. Expanding Minds
Commuting and wellness can be about brains just as much as it can be about braun. We explored in the last post the many reasons drive-alone commuters shouldn't try to think about anything other than the task at hand when they're driving. But many commuters are stretching their thinking and getting tasks done when they get to ride along in the passenger seat. A carpooler recently described all the things she accomplishes on her ride: grocery list, Sudoku puzzle, view news on her mobile phone, read books, etc. What activities do you do from the passenger seat to wake up your synapses and neurons?

The Clean Air Schools program is also broadening the minds of thousands of Georgia students in elementary, middle and high schools with a new and expanded library of about three-dozen air quality lesson plans. With emphasis on science, social studies, math and geography, these new resources could not arrive at a better time, as Georgia educators must work harder to make ends meet.

3. Helping Us All Breathe Easier
Fortunately for those living in metro ATL - the 9th worst city for asthmatics - this year's smog season has been among the most forgiving since 2005 (so far ... knock on wood). However, new studies are finding that long-term exposure to ground-level ozone can affect lifespan, trigger asthma attacks in children (apparently, traffic and stressed out parents have a lot to do with it) and even impact brain development in babies.

It's encouraging to see more schools in Georgia become part of the No-Idling program offered through The Clean Air Campaign's Clean Air Schools initiative as the new school year kicks off. This program, now in it's second year of support from The UPS Foundation, boasts more than 100 participating schools who are working to reduce air pollution on campus by encouraging bus drivers and parents to shut off their engines while waiting to pick up students.

Do you clean commute for the health benefits? Tell us how using alternatives to driving alone has improved your body and mind.

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