Working Out in a Warming World: A Climate-aware Fitpro’s Recommended Reading for Critical Reflection, Learning from Sports, and Supporting Climate Justice

As a climate-aware fitpro, I’m regularly reading about climate justice issues and reflecting on the relevance of fitness in a climate emergency. For me, “working out in a warming world” has a double meaning: it is both about exercising with the awareness that we are, as Britt Wray writes, “in the midst of an escalating planetary health crisis” and about working out (in the sense of figuring out) where my available agency lies and what I’m going to do about climate injustice. Part of this working out involves finding a balance between what Wray calls “internal emotional activism” and external activism. So, my first reading recommendation is Britt Wray’s new book Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, 2022) along with Wray’s Gen Dread, “A newsletter about staying sane in the climate crisis”.

One of the ways I manage my eco-anxiety is by channeling my creativity into raising awareness about the climate emergency. For me, designing with Canva and other graphic design tools like Painnt is a grounding, calming, and purposeful practice, most of the time. I do also have to stay aware of the amount of time I spend sitting and balance that with some movement. With this blog post, I present some new graphic designs that have been inspired by recent reading, climate activism, and connecting with my community.

Let’s reflect critically about the practice of fitness

I’m recommending the article “Feeling the Burn: The Workout Video from Jane Fonda to Peloton” written by Carine Abouseif with illustration by Valéry Lemay and published in The Walrus Magazine. There’s also a related podcast featuring an interview with the author. Abouseif writes that, “the ways we exercise are often tied up with gender, class, and other social markers” and she reflects on her evolving feelings while exercising at home during the pandemic. Although the article doesn’t make specific reference to the climate crisis, it does touch on related themes of healthism, (white) privilege, etc. , which I started reflecting on myself during the pandemic. As Britt Wray writes in Generation Dread, “Just like our warming climate, pandemics are not separate from, but a symptom of, our planetary health crisis.”

I recently wrote a new poem about moving away from the branded fusion fitness program for women that I was offering online and focusing instead on my own climate-aware fitness project. Since I’ve submitted the poem with the hope of publication, I won’t share it now, but will do so in the future. I can share that my poem incorporates my hashtags #FitnessDeclares a climate emergency and #NoFitnessOnASickPlanet. Poetry is another way that I build resilience through personal practice and community engagement as co-facilitator of the Scarborough Poetry Club along with my husband and poet Jeevan Bhagwat, who is Poet in Residence for my Embodied Climate Justice Fitness project and in life (another double meaning here).

Vibrantly colourful graphic inspired by workout trends and technology by Anna Nieminen

What can fitness learn from how sports is addressing climate injustice?

I’m recommending the article “How sport organizations and events are combatting climate change” by the Sport Information Resource Centre (SIRC) with Teddy Katz and published in SIRC Blog. The following three infographics highlight some of the information presented in the article from the perspectives of how sports is leading through action and by example at the international level, within Canada, and in football/soccer. The third infographic also features some additional information about climate justice leadership by the Bohemian Football Club in Ireland, who are the first club with a Climate Justice Officer. I was particularly uplifted by reading about the proposed Bohemian Way walking trail and stories project and I highly recommend the article “Bohemian Football Club launch community climate transition project to tackle crisis” published in DublinLive. The walking trail will engage fans and the wider community, including artists, “incorporate local tales, flora and voices”, and tell three interwoven stories: the history of the Bohemian Football Club, the history of Dublin, and “the future climate transition for the people of the city” in terms of challenges and opportunities. The article made me think of Scarborough (Ontario)’s The Meadoway project, which is also community-powered, but I wanted to highlight here how a sports organization is demonstrating climate justice leadership and modelling what we could be doing in fitness. I also highly recommend the podcast “Can sport shine a light on climate injustice?” hosted by Matthew Campelli, editor at The Sustainability Report. This episode features a conversation with Sean McCabe, who is the Climate Justice Officer for the Bohemian FC, and Jessica Murfree, visiting professor at Texas A&M University and academic focusing on the intersection of sport, climate and justice. It provides an engaging introduction to what climate justice is, how it relates to sports, and how sports organizations can use the cultural significance of sports to help communities with a just transition.

Sports and the climate crisis: International initiatives graphic by Anna Nieminen
Sports and the climate crisis: Canadian initiatives graphic by Anna Nieminen
Sports and the climate crisis: initiatives lead by football/soccer graphic by Anna Nieminen

Let’s support Indigenous climate action

There are lots of opportunities for learning about and supporting Indigenous climate action. I have a dedicated page on my website where I post about Walking and “Living in Indigenous Sovereignty”. I invite you to follow what I’m learning and engaging in, and to take a deeper dive into resources that interest you. Here I’m recommending learning about and supporting the Grassy Narrows First Nation as they continue their struggle to achieve mercury justice and freedom. The photos in this graphic highlight the Grassy Narrow’s River Run 2022 in Toronto/Tkaronto this past July 21. At the bottom are photos of Grassy Narrows youth and performer Waawaate Fobister at Queen’s Park, and Chief Randy Fobister and other community members and supporters during the round dance in front of the Indigenous Services Canada – Ontario Regional Office. One of the things I heard about during the speeches by Grassy Narrows community members was that some of them cannot engage in certain sports because of nerve damage by mercury poisoning, and there are other even more devastating health consequences from this environmental racism. Besides reading about justice for Grassy Narrows from their website, I encourage everyone to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC)’s 94 Calls to Action. Calls 87-91 are about sports and should make those of us involved in fitness also reflect on our responsibility to support Indigenous health and wellness.

Photos from the Grassy Narrows River Run 2022 in Toronto/Tkaronto by Anna Nieminen

Let’s learn about the determinants of health, including Food Justice

From the global to the local level, food insecurity affects marginalized communities disproportionately. Programs like the Flemingdon Community Farm and the Flemo Farmers’ Market with its Community Compost Exchange program address Food Justice and local climate action in the City of Toronto. Besides reading about Flemo Farm on their website, I recommend reading about FoodShare, which is one of the supporters of Flemo Farm and other food security projects and programs across the city. The organization’s values statements about Food Justice and Body Liberation and fat acceptance define these concepts, provide examples of how FoodShare is aligning and evaluating its own work, and calls on other organizations and individuals to work together to take action.

I volunteered at FoodShare back in 2013, which included tending the onsite community garden, supporting special events, and helping out at the “Growing Food Justice by Uprooting Racism Training” at Black Creek Community Farm. I also took FoodShare’s “Field to Table Schools: Good Food Education Training” myself and tended a backyard vegetable garden where I applied learning and skills to grow some of my own food in Scarborough. My visit to Flemo Farm and the market this summer has reignited my desire to become involved in food security issues in my community after having turned my attention to fitness in recent years. Can the two interests be combined? Of course gardening and composting involve physical activity, but I’m also interested in the other health benefits of food security projects, such as individual and community mental wellbeing and resiliency. So, my final recommended reading for this blog post is about The Conservation Volunteers (TCV)’s Green Gym – “Outdoor exercise that makes a difference” model in the UK. TCV’s structured, group-based gardening and conservation work projects combine a warm up, the activity, a “social tea break” and a cool down. Green Gym has been studied and proven to reduce stress. I recommend watching the embedded video on TCV’s main page. In it you’ll hear about how group-based outdoor programs like Green Gym are an antidote to “Nature Deficit Disorder” and how “social prescribing” puts people and communities at the center of treating mental health, thereby supporting lasting, sustainable improvements in wellbeing.

Photos from Flemo Farm and Flemo Farmers’ Market in Toronto/Tkaronto, summer 2022 by Anna Nieminen

Returning to my first recommended reading, Britt Wray’s book Generation Dread, I’ll conclude by quoting a couple of the key takeaways from her final chapter on “Stronger Communities for a Better Future”:

Significant responsibility for mental health care can be transferred from the traditional expert-oriented, one-on-one model to a more community-based practice that puts solutions in the hands of locals (i.e., “task-shifting”).

With a bit of incentive, communities can be empowered to develop their social capital in the climate crisis, with positive effects for their mental health (i.e., “the pearl in the oyster”).

Britt Wray, Generation Dread, p.233

As I continue my learning, reflecting and engaging with climate activism through my Embodied Climate Justice Fitness (ECJF) project, I hope to build stronger and deeper connections to my own community for our mutual wellbeing in a warming world. We can work it out.


The inaugural Green Sports Day Canada was celebrated this Thursday, October 6, 2022.

Britt Wray’s book Generation Dread has been listed as a finalist for the 2022 Governor General’s Literary Awards this October 12. Winners will be announced on November 16.

The Fifa World Cup 2022 has been very controversial for the large number of migrant workers who have died on construction sites in host country Qatar. Already in February 2021, The Guardian reported that there had been 6,500 deaths since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in December 2010. This controversy highlights the importance of justice in climate action. A more recent The Guardian article published during the games reports:

Average high temperatures in Qatar exceed 100F (37.7C) for five months of the year. Though the tournament was moved from summer to winter for the safety and comfort of players, officials and fans, workers are at risk of accidents, heat-related illnesses and other ailments related to the physical and mental strains of working long hours in extreme heat. Suicide is also a concern.

The article also reports that besides working conditions, concerns about LGBT rights have also marred these games as well as the previous World Cup hosted by Russian in 2018. Any claims the Qatari government makes about being the first carbon neutral games need to viewed through a climate justice lens, especially now that Qatar has become the world’s biggest exporter of liquified natural gas.

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