How to Get the Health Benefits of Giving While Staying Fit
Volunteer work can be hard to fit into a busy lifestyle with work and family, but there are good reasons to make time for being charitable.
There is a lot of evidence from research that giving to others improves both the giver’s physical and mental health. Being good is actually good for you.
If you’re a fitness fanatic, you can combine giving with your favorite pastime. And for those who are less inclined to work out, charitable giving can be a motivator to be more active.
Charity 5k runs, fitness-based fundraisers, and philanthropic fitness apps are ways that you can combine giving back with working out and wellness.
Lower Stress, Blood Pressure, and More Just by Giving
Giving to charities, volunteering your time, and simply helping or supporting someone who needs you is proven in research to be good for your health. A lot of studies focus on how giving effects those who are in need, but the givers have also been studied. Here’s what researchers have found:
- One study followed several people for 24 hours, measuring blood pressure and heart rate (1). The results showed that when people were actively giving social support to others, their blood pressure was lower. The participants also reported less stress, more self-esteem, and less depression when being charitable and helping people.
- Another study showed that older adults with a strong sense of purpose in life, often triggered by volunteer work and helping others, resulted in significantly better sleep quality and fewer sleep disorders compared to non-giving seniors (2).
- Volunteering may actually help you live longer too. Studies show that people who volunteer regularly are less likely to die within the following few years, even when other factors are controlled for, like exercise, age, and overall health (3).
- Physical health is important, of course, but so is mental health, and it turns out doing good for others is also good for your mind and spirit. Studies show that volunteering reduces depression, lowers stress, and improves well-being and overall life satisfaction (4).
This ISSA blog post outlines how fitness benefits heart health and actually reduces the risk of heart disease.
4 Ways to Get the Health Benefits of Giving with Fitness
Giving doesn’t have to mean committing hours of your time every week. Regular volunteering is great, but it’s just not possible for everyone. What you can do instead is volunteer at occasional events, help people as you see the need, and donate money to important causes.
To maximize your time, also consider getting involved with fitness-related charities and events. Here are a few ways you can give and get fit at the same time, reaping the benefits of both.
1. Get the Health Benefits of Giving, Plus Running
Lace up your running shoes and do a 5k for charity. There are plenty of races either solely organized for a charitable organization or that give at least some portion of race fees to a charity. You can enjoy the act of giving while pushing yourself to do a race.
Start with 5k races and work your way up to longer distances or set new PRs. And for the maximum impact for your dollar, look for local races benefiting your community. These smaller races can really use your donation. You’ll feel better spending that race money to help others rather than simply working on your own fitness.
And if running just isn’t your thing, keep in mind that most of these smaller runs encourage walkers to join in as well. You may also be able to find other fitness-based charity events that involve doing CrossFit, lifting, or playing sports games like soccer or basketball.
2. Volunteer at a Charity Race
A race can be a selfish endeavor, although of course that’s not necessarily bad. Races are great for your own physical fitness and mental wellness as they push you to train more and try harder. But, it can also provide happiness to give back to those events and all the runners who participate.
Instead of signing up to run, volunteer at the next race that catches your interest. It’s a good feeling to be on the sidelines cheering people on, motivating them to keep going when things get really tough. Other volunteer opportunities can include bringing bananas, cookies, or water for the end of the race; organizing the event ahead of time; and helping to raise money and sign up more runners.
3. Try Philanthropic Fitness Apps
If you’re more comfortable being charitable on your own time and in your own way, check out apps that provide other ways to combine fitness with giving. Here are some examples and how they work:
- Charity Miles. This app helps you earn money to give to charities with every physical activity you complete. It’s a great motivator to get more active. Choose from among 40 associated charities.
- Charity Bets. This one comes with a fun twist. You bet a friend you’ll complete some type of fitness goal, like running a marathon and they put money on it. Include multiple friends and family to get more donations. When you complete the goal, all the money goes to a charity of your choice.
- Walk for a Dog. To support animal charities, try this app. It will record your steps and let you support one of many different organizations that rescue animals. You can even pick specific animals to sponsor. The money comes from advertisers and corporate sponsors.
- Crossbow Miles. This app specifically supports a charity that educates and empowers women in India. Donations are made when you hit certain step milestones.
4. Donate Training Hours
The above ideas are for anyone, including your clients looking for ways to give back. As a trainer you can also donate your time and expertise. You have a special skill that helps people, so why not spend some time offering it for free for those in need?
Try local community centers, especially in underserved areas where you may be able to offer classes for young people. Senior centers and assisted living and retirement communities are also welcoming to volunteers and can use your services to help residents stay active and healthy.
Check out this ISSA post on giving back to kids in the community for inspiration.
Fitness and charity can go hand-in-hand. And not only will giving back help other people who need it, your good deed will also help you, physically and mentally. Get your clients on board and use giving to help motivate and propel them to their fitness goals.
Feeling motivated to learn more and do more? Explore the ISSA’s personal training course to learn more about fitness and how you can help others reach their goals for better health and well-being.
- Piferi, R.L. and Lawler, K.A. (2006). Social Support and Ambulatory Blood Pressure: An Examination of Both Receiving and Giving. Int. J. Psychol. 62(2), 328-36. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167876006001917
- Turner, A.D., Smith, C.E., and Ong, J.C. (2017). Is Purpose in Life Associated with Less Sleep Disturbance in Older Adults? Sleep Science and Practice. 1(14). Retrieved from https://sleep.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41606-017-0015-6
- Cleveland Clinic. (2016, November 15). Wanna Give? This is Your Brain on a ‘Helper’s High.’ Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-giving-is-good-for-your-health/
- Jenkinson, C.E., Dickens, A.P., Jones, K., Thompson-Coon, J., Taylor, R.S., Rogers, M., Bambra, C.L., Lang, I., and Richards, S.H. (2013). Is Volunteering a Public Health Intervention? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Health and Survival of Volunteers. 13(773). Retrieved from https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-13-773