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Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Staying a Healthy Hiker

December 2010

by Don Hoernschemeyer, Ph.D.

Sierra Club people keep physically fit and take care of their health because it’s part of their ethos, and because they want to continue to enjoy hiking and camping in nature.

Each of us knows the recipe for maintaining good health—it’s in the news all the time. Eat a balanced diet, and limit your calories. Get enough exercise, of any form. Keep your stress level down—one of the hardest things to do. Have an affectionate and supportive marriage or partnership. Have friends whom you see regularly and have fun with. Take time out for relaxation and simple pleasures. But it is often frustratingly difficult to consistently do what we know we should do.

Would attention to all these common-sense and well known actions keep us healthy? No! They are necessary but not sufficient for our long-term health. There is one more important ingredient needed in order to have a vital, healthy life, free of disease well into later years. Our bodies must be kept free of toxic chemicals. Most Sierra Club people are aware of high profile environmental toxics, for example, Polychlorinated biphenyls, Bisphenol-A, and Phthalates. But there are more, for example, Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDPE), Polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), Perchlorates, and new pesticides that are always being produced. Where are these toxics found? PBDPE flame retardants are in household dust and foam cushioning, pillows, and mattresses; PAH is coated on microscopic particles of soot; PFOA is on the packaging of microwave popcorn and on carpeting (therefore also on household dust); Perchlorates are in some leafy produce and some drinking water in the West.

Each of us can raise the odds of being free of diseases that result from ubiquitous, invisible toxic chemicals in the environment. All that is required is knowing how we are normally exposed to these toxics, and keeping them out of our bodies. It is possible; it merely requires knowledge and intention and good habits.

A few examples of what you can do right now to keep toxics out of your body:

• Buy produce that, according to published lists, has the least residue of pesticides.

• See the report by The Environmental Working Group,

• Use organic cooking oils (avoid non-organic cottonseed and soybean oils).

• Vacuum carpeting frequently.

For further information visit the author’s blog site,

Santa Cruz Sierra Club member Don Hoernschemeyer is a retired research chemist.

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