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How to Exercise for Good
Charity runs and volunteer opportunities can help you use your passion for fitness to make a positive impact on the community around you.
Exercise is intrinsically rewarding, helping you to stay healthier, happier, more balanced and energetic. No doubt, self-care is a great motivator and a key component of working out. But as many people are discovering, using fitness to help others is an equally strong incentive to commit to exercise.
Participating in activity-based fundraising events, volunteering for organizations that support movement and using apps that help you raise money for charity as you move all provide an opportunity to turn exercise into a positive force for the greater good. Start with these strategies to use your passion for exercise as a way to benefit others.
Try a Charity Run
Whether you’re walking, running or biking, there are lots of reasons to take part in an activity-based charity event. For starters, you’ll be raising money and awareness for a cause you care about, while getting fit in the process. How it works: You sign up in advance and pay a registration fee, some or all of which may be donated to the charity. You can also collect pledges from friends, family members and coworkers (some employers match donations) in support of your effort. They may donate a specific amount for completing the event or an amount pegged to incremental milestones, such as promising $1 for every mile you run.
To find a charity race near you, the website Road Race Runner is a good resource. The site offers an interactive map that lets you click on your state to find events in your area. You can also filter events by year, month and type, so whether you’re looking for a 5K run or walk, a virtual run, a half marathon or a full-on marathon, it’s pretty easy to find one.
Volunteer Your Time
Motivating others to get moving is great inspiration to move more yourself. The Reebok Foundation’s BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success) program helps kids, especially those in underserved communities, get active and forge an enduring commitment to health and fitness.
Designed for children of all ages and abilities and driven by the belief that regular activity improves physical and mental health and academic performance, the free program provides volunteers, educators and parents with lesson plans, training and support, as well as ideas for games and activities to get kids moving. You can sign up on the program website to become a BOKS trainer and work with kids in your community.
Another way to volunteer your time: Sign up to help coach Girls on the Run, a nationwide program that empowers girls to develop life skills and build confidence through running. Volunteer opportunities include coaching a group, providing support at a 5K and running with the girls on a weekly basis.
Use a Charity App
You can even use your daily walking, running or biking regimen to help raise money for charity. The free iPhone and Android app Charity Miles tracks your distance using your phone’s built-in pedometer and GPS. It uses the data to solicit donations from its corporate sponsors for a range of charities, including the ASPCA, Autism Speaks, Habitat for Humanity and many others. For instance, a company may pledge as much as 10 cents for every mile you bike and 25 cents for every mile you walk or run to your charity of choice. You can also use the app to collect pledges and donations from friends and family.
Another free app, WoofTrax/Walk for a Dog, uses a similar process to help you raise money for animal shelters and rescues by walking your dog—or walking an imaginary dog if you don’t have a pooch handy.
For a bit of reverse psychology, check out stickK, an app that lets you set a goal, such as training for a race, and then select a charity you strongly dislike. You’ll pledge a certain amount of money, and if you don’t achieve your goal (you bail on the race), the money gets sent to your despised charity. If you do meet your goal, you’ll either keep the money or donate it to a cause you actually do support.
Donate Old Running Shoes
Sometimes, helping others is as easy as gifting the shoes on your feet. Let’s say you’ve treated yourself to an awesome new pair of running shoes. The ones you’ve been training in have passed the 300-mile mark, but they still have some life left in them. Instead of tossing them in the trash, donate old running shoes to a charity that will give them a second life.
For instance, One World Running in Boulder, CO, is a nonprofit organization that washes used athletic shoes, T-shirts and shorts and sends them, along with medicine and other supplies, to communities in need around the world.
The nonprofit Soles4Souls also distributes gently used shoes and clothing to people in the U.S. and across the globe; Chicago-based nonprofit Share Your Soles and New York City-based Shoe4Africa have similar missions (the latter also helps build hospitals and supports schools in Africa), so you know donating to them is a step in the right direction.
At the end of the day, a large part of exercising will always be about self-care—and being proactive in your health and fitness is a smart move. But if your path to self-improvement includes stops to help those less fortunate, that’s a win-win in everyone’s book.