Green Fitness Gear

By Sharon Naylor

March 25, 2011 6 min read

Does your workout help or hurt? The environment, that is. Those hand weights, your yoga mat, your treadmill, even the shoes on your feet -- they all can be eco-dangerous. These products not only can expose you to toxic plastics and chemicals but also can rev up your energy consumption and electric bills. If you want to live a greener lifestyle, it's time to green your workouts.

First, inspect the gear you already own to assess which items are certified organic or certified fair trade, such as an eco-friendly yoga mat made from plant-based raw materials. You may be surprised to learn you already have a good start on greening your workout gear.

As the weather gets nicer, you may be planning on shedding your old workout regimen to launch an outdoor exercise routine. Before you head to the store, consider making greener choices in fitness gear and footwear. Here are some of the eco-friendly innovations in fitness equipment and supplies, making your workouts healthier for you and for the planet.

*Yoga Gear

During yoga, you're in close physical contact with your mat, and you don't want to breathe and absorb harmful chemicals from the mat itself. Organic yoga mats have been on the market for quite some time, made from eco-safe materials, including raw plant-based materials. Look for phthalate-free mats. Phthalates are a particular danger, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, because they have been known to pose a cancer risk through repeated exposure. The new class of phthalate-free yoga mats is marked as such, often made from environmentally friendly PVC materials or jute. Gaiam's online store is just one source for green yoga gear and has a collection of all the yoga accessories you'll need. These green accessories include bolsters made of hemp, yoga blocks made of cork or recycled materials, hemp yoga straps, 100 percent organic fiber wool yoga blankets and more. Even bags used to carry yoga mats and equipment come in 100 percent organic cotton or bamboo.

*Weighted Gear

From hand weights to medicine balls, eco-technology has introduced safer coatings and materials, such as patented rubber coatings on medicine balls from Aeromat, which use latex- and phthalate-free Neuwa material. The idea is that during a sweaty workout session, toxic rubber chemicals won't seep into your skin.

*Footballs, Basketballs and Soccer Balls

Warm-weather sports may have you and your kids headed to the local field to enjoy your favorite sport. But you don't have to play with toxic rubber balls, some of which even smell of toxins; the balls you use in your games can be eco-friendly. Fair Trade Sports Inc. is the first sports equipment company in the U.S. to launch a full line of eco-certified fair trade sports balls. The eco-certification in these regulation-size footballs, soccer balls and basketballs ensures that they are made of green materials. Fair Trade Sports has pioneered the use of eco-certified rubber from a sustainably run forest rather than rubber from environmentally destructive rubber tree plantations. The fair trade certification adds an extra benefit, by ensuring that fair wages and healthy working conditions have been provided for the employees who make these balls. In addition, the company pays a 20 percent premium, which goes directly to a worker-run organization that grants loans to businesses run by women and provides health care for the workers' families.

"I started this company to bring market pressure to bear on Nike, adidas and the other multinational companies to improve the human rights and environmental aspects behind their sports balls -- and to have fun doing so," says Scott James, owner of Fair Trade Sports. Parents say their kids appreciate having greener sports equipment, because the younger generation tends to be very eco-minded and very passionate about fair trade practices and companies giving back.

*Greener Water Bottles

Eco-friendly water bottles are a must to keep you hydrated during your workouts. BPA-free water bottles are the leading style, and cutting-edge suppliers, such as Envirosax, use food-grade stainless steel in the creation of their safe water bottles. Lately, water bottle design has become more colorful, with bright colors and fashion-forward patterns in design, and you'll find new skinny bottles, which might fit better than a traditional bottle in your bike's bottle holder.

*Workout Clothes

From yoga pants to hoodies and sweatshirts, eco-friendly organic cottons, bamboo and other sustainable fabrics are readily available in major brand labels, as well as at specialty shops such as REI, whose ecoSensitive label shows you which items have been made from a high percentage of recycled, rapidly renewable and organic fibers.

*Recycling Your Fitness Gear

If you plan to switch to green fitness equipment, be sure to recycle your current equipment. At The Freecycle Network's website (http://www.freecycle.org), you can list your gear and trade for other items, or you can donate your gear to a community center. Gyms often collect your used yoga mats and sports sneakers, bringing them to specialty recycling centers that may turn those items into playground equipment, gym mats or other goods to promote a healthier lifestyle for all.

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