Take care of your health, and the planet's too

As a specialist in planetary health, Dr Haveri not only prescribes healthy lifestyle changes, but also those that help to promote sustainability and a better connection with nature. — Lahti

In the Finnish city of Lahti, the doctor’s prescription might surprise you.

Barefoot forest walks, gardening and foraging for your dinner are all ways of taking care of residents’ health.

This summer (2022), the city of Lahti invited a group of locals to try a planetary health plan to see if making greener choices could also be good for their health.

In June (2022), five locals received personalised health plans created by Finland’s first Planetary Health Physician Dr Hanna Haveri and followed her recommendations for two months.

Their carbon emissions and overall health were mapped before and after the experiment.

The city, known for its green credentials, is carrying out a long-term study into the effects of planetary health, and the summer’s experiment was aimed at raising awareness for the health benefits of an environmentally-conscious lifestyle and to inspire locals to make better choices for the planet and their health.

In planetary health, human health and the planet’s welfare are linked: taking care of one looks after the other.

Many environmental concerns have been linked to health issues; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost one in four deaths globally are linked to environmental conditions such as air pollution, climate and living conditions in cities.

Healthy and energised

The participants were all local residents from different age groups, from busy young professionals and families with children to retirees.

Health plans were tailored to each participant individually, containing recommendations for exercise, nutrition, relationship to nature and living environment.

The planetary prescriptions took a creative approach to health, for instance, participants were encouraged to replace dairy spreads and cheese by foraging wild herbs from local nature, strengthen their connection to nature through barefoot forest walks and creating wildflower meadows in their backyards.

Despite initial doubts, participants were impressed.

“Incorporating post-run barefoot forest walks into my exercise routine has been mind-blowing.

“I’m a performance-oriented person and this has helped me slow down and pay more attention to recovery,” says Markus Kontiainen, a 30-year-old Lahti resident who took part in the experiment.

After two months, Kontiainen, whose plan had a special focus on mindfulness and recovery, saw a 58% drop in his exhaustion levels.

Other participants saw various improvements in their well-being, e.g. Liisa Heino reduced her diabetes risk by 75%.

Raija Repo, a grandmother concerned for the planet’s future, made major changes in her diet by adding the amount of vegetarian food by 40% and replacing dairy products with locally-foraged wild herbs.

She saw a 35% drop in her carbon footprint.

Busy working mum Anna Hakala looked for family-friendly ways to be more sustainable and managed to increase both her daily exercise score and the use of vegetables, fruits and berries by 20%.

On average, the five participants saw a 17% decrease in their carbon footprint, a 16% increase in their overall well-being and a 36% drop in their exhaustion scores.

Green is health

The experiment was inspired by an ongoing 10-year initiative called Nature Step to Health in Lahti, which studies the long-term public health impact of a greener lifestyle.

As a pioneer in urban sustainability, the city was named the official European Green Capital 2021 by the European Commission.

It continues to promote a sustainable way of living that balances urbanity with nature.

“In the light of research, nature promotes recovery.

“Even short nature visits restore stress levels, lower cortisol and improves immune regulation.

“This is something that surprisingly many people do not think about,” says Dr Haveri.

Learnings from this summer’s experiment, along with planetary health advice from leading Finnish specialists, will be shared as a content series in Lahti’s channels on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

The experiment was carried out by the city of Lahti with Päijät-Häme Joint Authority for Health and Wellbeing, Terveystalo Oy, Osuuskauppa Hämeenmaa, Training Center Pajulahti and The Sport Institute of Finland Vierumäki.

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