Fitness Fun

A Good Cause Can Save Your Fitness Regimen

exercise for a good causeLast year, hordes of people paid thousands of dollars apiece on eBay for pairs of Nikes. Specifically limitededitionBacktotheFutureNikes to benefit Michael J. Fox’s charity for Parkinson’s disease.

While Nike didn’t get to keep the $4.7 million in profits, this benevolent act boosted its image too. Nike fans retweeted stories about the fundraiser and redoubled their fandom. The warm fuzzy probably drove some out to buy a pair of plain old Nikes to support the charitable company.

You can see how causemarketing is powerful. By linking up with a good cause, companies create a passionate following and good deed stories go viral. Not only do people buy beneficent products even when purse strings are tight, but they’re often happy to pay a higher price than they would for a non-cause item.

What if you could create the same steadfast loyalty to your fitness routine? Come rain or shine… Scrubs rerun or Superbowl Sunday… you’d be out there training.

You can: it’s called “cause exercising.” I just made it up. Well, I made up the term—the concept of tying an exercise goal to a good cause is a full-swing phenomenon: RelayforLife. RacefortheCure. BikeandBuild. ClimbforCleanAir.

Good causes have America exercising en masse

Over 1.5 million people participate in a Race for the Cure event each year. That event alone has probably given more people a fitness “shot in the arm” than any finger-wagging fast food documentary or government campaign to fight obesity.

Of course we want to be healthy. But vague notions of ‘health’ and ‘fitness’ aren’t always enough to get us out of the house and trying new things. Dangle a humanitarian carrot in front of us, though, and we’ll tie on our trainers faster than you can say charity.

Why does cause exercising work?

For one, we lead busy lives and it’s hard to say no to an opportunity to multi-task. It counts as exercise, a social activity and a fundraiser? Ok, sign us up.

For two, we care about stuff. From raising money for disease research, to raising awareness about environmental issues, to building homes for those in need, sometimes these are a little dearer to our hearts than, well, the gym.

Cause exercising is like pinning up an itty-bitty bikini in front of our treadmills, but better, because the goal is emotional and personal. Often the cause tugs at a special chord to keep us motivated. I participate in a 60-mile bike ride (Little Red Riding Hood) every June because the proceeds go toward breast and ovarian cancer research. It’s meaningful to me because my grandmother is a breast cancer survivor.

Of course, we know that pedaling our hearts out won’t directly save people. But the registration fee we pay to do it, plus the support of partnering organizations, will. And pedaling our hearts out is what makes these events possible. The willingness of thousands of people to train for months, then sweat, starve and experience total muscle failure on event day, is what garners mass awareness for the cause.

Thus, we’ll even do grueling activities we’d never do otherwise. Like the PolarBearPlunge. (Not sure if jumping in icy water has fitness benefits, but it sure is testimony to the power of a good cause.)

And don’t forget “helper’s high”

Another reason cause exercising pushes us past our exercise boundaries? Besides getting our passion flowing, it might actually deliver a physical boost: doing things for charity has been shown to spur endorphins, which put us in a good mood and act as a natural pain-killer (great for those uphill stretches).

Then again, maybe our athletic success is just fueled by good karma.

Whatever it is, it’s working.

So dust off your sneakers, folks. If your fitness drive could use an extra kick, find your cause and get training. There are hundreds of athletic events going on across the U.S. this summer, and just about every single one is for a charity.

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert


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