7 Surprising Ways to Do Good While You Get Fit

Would it surprise you to know that people who have a stronger sense of purpose in life are more physically active? So say researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver, who published study in the Journal of Health Psychology(2010). One of the co-authors, Stephanie A. Hooker explained in an interview with Time,“Reminding yourself what gives your life meaning and purpose, and connecting that to why you want to be physically active, could improve the chances that you stick with it.”  So if you’d like to get fit, consider linking it to “doing good” for added motivation and benefit.

wellbeing tip #46: get fit for a cause

Tip #46: Get Fit for a Cause

To make exercise more meaningful (and hence find the motivation to do it), get fit for a cause. When I was in high school, my friends and I took part in the annual March of Dimes Walk to raise money for maternal and child health worldwide. We’d collect our pledges from family members, church friends, and neighbors and then rain or shine, we’d make our laps around Belle Isle (an actual island in the Detroit River) with hundreds of other walkers. In those few hours, we got the triple benefit of exercise, socializing with friends, and doing global good.

The March of Dimes walk was the pioneer for cause-related fitness events. Other popular ones now include Race for the Cure, the largest fundraiser for breast cancer research, walks and rides supporting the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. For many participants, these events provide the right incentive for regular exercise: get fit for the big event. It helps to have an invested interest in the cause, like a loved one with MS or Alzheimer’s.

A worthy alternative to such charity events is an app that allows you to donate money through your every-day exercise. My favorite is Charity Miles, a free app that funnels donations from corporate sponsors to one of 40 charities (you choose)—25 cents for every mile of exercise logged. Charities include Feeding America, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, World Wildlife Federation, and many more reputable organizations that make a sizable impact. I can tell you from experience, the immediacy of the contribution is extremely gratifying.

wellbeing tip #47: encourage elderly exercise to get fit

Tip #47: Encourage Elderly Exercise

Bringing the meaningful motivation closer to home, you might think about the elderly in your life who might need some exercise encouragement.  The older folks get, the harder it is to stay active. But it couldn’t be more vital for our wellbeing. Seniors especially need weight-bearing exercise to slow the loss of bone density, cardio to keep heart and lungs strong, and exercise that improves balance and flexibility. While maintaining fitness contributes to overall wellbeing in the golden years, it also reduces the risk of falls. In the US, 30% of seniors over 65 fall once a year, increasing to 50% of folks over 80. Believe me, you do not want a parent in the hospital (or worse) after a preventable fall.

So if you have elderly loved ones, encourage them to get fit. Walk with them at their pace. Get them out working in the garden and help them with the heavy lifting. Drive them to a Tai Chi class at the YMCA. Gift them a membership to a fitness club with a pool (some YMCAs also have pools). Better yet, take the class or swim with them. Make sure the exercise is something they’d enjoy. (It might be better to start off with a conversation rather than an assumption). The wellbeing boost you get from helping others while you yourself get fit is a win-win.

wellbeing tip #48: labor for love to get fit

Tip #48: Labor for Love

Which is better for your wellbeing: chatting up your new neighbor while he unloads the moving truck or actually helping him? My muscles are getting sore just thinking about carrying a household full of heavy boxes! But I’d much rather do that than workout in a gym. I’d also rather rake an elderly neighbor’s leaves, pull weeds in the community garden, or help a friend repaint her house. This sort of exercise has a triple benefit. While you get fit, you also feel a jolt of positive emotion from social interaction and giving, and you build community. While “labor for love” may sound cheesy, it seems like an awfully good motivator to me. 

wellbeing tip #49: campaign for complete streets

Tip #49: Campaign for Complete Streets

It’s no secret that our society caters to cars to the detriment of other modes of mobility like pedestrians, bikes, and public transit. In fact, 6000 pedestrians died in car accidents in 2016—a sharp 11% increase from the previous year. According to Smart Growth America’s 2016 Dangerous by Design report, people of color and individuals over 65 make up a disproportionate percentage of pedestrian deaths. The most influential factor is where they live—overwhelmingly low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. 

The good news is that many cities are starting to revamp their roadways to accommodate more types of travelers. In the last ten years, more than 1200 communities have joined the national “complete streets” movement, which aims to make streets safer for all users. The California Complete Streets Act (AB 1358)spells it out more plainly:

In order to fulfill the commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, make the most efficient use of urban land and transportation infrastructure, and improve public health by encouraging physical activity, transportation planners must find innovative ways to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and to shift from short trips in the automobile to biking, walking and use of public transit. 

In my town, the Complete Streets committee has accomplished new bike-route markings, a law requiring three-foot clearance between moving cars and cyclists, and a free trolley on weekends. Other ideas include a bike-share program, removal of on-street parking, traffic calming modifications, and more. Local citizen-government discussions will help determine the needs and potential solutions in a given locale. 

wellbeing tip #50: lobby for long-distance paths

Tip #50: Lobby for Long-distance Paths

Would you believe that 2020 had the most cyclist deaths in 30 years, even with less traffic due to COVID-19? Higher speeds mean more fatalities. The Complete Streets movement will make the streets considerably safer for cyclists, though improvements typically happen within city limits, and they vary greatly from city to city. And again, low income and communities of color benefit less from infrastructure upgrades. So about connecting cities and regions with dedicated long-distance bike paths? 

Organizations like People for Bikes are already working on building safe and sustainable bike networks for transportation and recreation that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion. In their words, People for Bikes ensures that

bikes are prioritized and positioned as a real solution to improve Americans’ health, connect communities, boost local and state economies, strengthen our nation and protect our planet.

It’s no stretch to think that bikes not only allow us to get fit; they can also make the world a better place.  And with role models like Amsterdam or Copenhagen, where bicycles now outnumber cars on the road, we have no shortage of innovative examples to inspire us. 

wellbeing tip #51: protect public parks

Tip #51: Protect Public Parks

Since New York’s Central Park opened in the mid 1800s, local governments have maintained public parks to support resident’s wellbeing. They provide safe places for physical activity, stress reduction, social interaction, and connection to nature. Governments also recognized early on the value of public parks for environmental health. They mitigate heat, reduce flood risks, and serve as wildlife refuges.

The biggest threat to public parks is funding. Some are now instituting or increasing day-use fees or charging to access certain areas and activities. California State Beaches now charge up to a staggering fifteen dollars for single day-use fees! Fees for national parks are steeper and perhaps even more concerning. President Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service in 1916 expressly to protect national lands so that all citizens could have free access to nature far into the future. 

As members of the public, we have a responsibility to protect our common resources. Individuals can support parks by donating money (perhaps through a local “Adopt a Park” program). We can also sign petitions like Protect Our Public Land, and voting park supporters into public office. For national parks specifically, we can voice our opinion on the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment site. Our parks give so much to us, it seems only right to give them something in return.

wellbeing tip #52: march for progress

Tip #52: March for Progress

By participating in a protest march, you exercise your right to free speech and assembly…and just plain exercise. Protest marches may only cover a short distance, but you will likely walk a long way from your car or public transit. And don’t forget, you’ll be standing for hours.  With all this foot action, wearing the wrong shoes might be the biggest mistake protesters make! In case you are wondering, cushioned athletic shoes are best, or comfortable weather-resistant boots if it’s raining or snowing. Marching for progress, whether for women’s rights or climate action, generates heaps of wellbeing for our society, plus ups our own fitness levels. So if you’re looking for a new way to get fit and do some social good, grab your trainers & march.

Next week…

We’ll wrap up the month of getting in-shape with 8 more fitness tips that are good for the environment, too. See you then!

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