Mind & Body

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Five ways to use your en­thu­si­asm for ex­er­cise to help oth­ers.

Vlike some­thing best re­served for re­tirees, but there’s good rea­son to start the habit now. Sim­ply put, stud­ies have found that vol­un­teer­ing can in­crease your hap­pi­ness, not to men­tion help you live longer.

While you can em­bark on tra­di­tional vol­un­teer ac­tiv­i­ties like serv­ing food at a soup kitchen, you also can turn your pas­sion for fit­ness into a vol­un­teer opportunity. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less. “We’ve got thou­sands of op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple pas­sion­ate about fit­ness to give back,” says Greg Bald­win, pres­i­dent of Vol­un­teerMatch, which helps con­nect peo­ple with vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties around the world through its on­line data­base. Here are five ways to flex that vol­un­teer mus­cle:

ol­un­teer­ing might sound 1. Walk dogs at a lo­cal shel­ter or an­i­mal res­cue or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Dogs need their ex­er­cise, and those in shel­ters and res­cues are no ex­cep­tion, which is why peo­ple will­ing and able to spend time with th­ese dogs are in high de­mand. Yet just be­cause you walk your dog at home doesn’t mean you’re au­to­mat­i­cally qual­i­fied. Shel­ters of­ten re­quire that you go through train­ing to learn their pro­to­col (for in­stance, how to en­ter and exit a dog’s ken­nel) and even sub­mit to a back­ground check. The ul­ti­mate pay­off, along with bump­ing up your daily step count? A kiss from your “client.”

2. Go on pa­trol.

Vol­un­teers are of­ten called on to pa­trol trails for state and na­tional parks or even lo­cal trail sys­tems. Take, for in­stance, the Mid­town Green­way Coali­tion in Min­neapo­lis, which uses vol­un­teers to bike trails at night for a few hours. Rides usu­ally take place most nights of the week, and vol­un­teers sign up for nights they can ride. They then serve as a friendly pres­ence on the trail, help clean up the trail and re­port any­thing sus­pi­cious.

3. Teach fit­ness classes.

Gyms might be the most com­mon place that of­fers fit­ness classes, but they’re not the only lo­ca­tion. From se­nior cen­ters to af­ford­able hous­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions, nu­mer­ous fa­cil­i­ties host classes, but un­like gyms, they’re of­ten taught by vol­un­teers. Vol­un­teerMatch, for in­stance, re­cently linked a fit­ness in­struc­tor to an af­ford­able hous­ing or­ga­ni­za­tion where she teaches yoga there for free.

You might not be a pro­fes­sional coach, but that doesn’t mat­ter to or­ga­ni­za­tions like Girls on the Run, which em­pow­ers girls ages 8 to 13 through run­ning (or walk­ing) and looks for vol­un­teers to serve as coaches and run­ning bud­dies. “The most im­por­tant qual­i­ties coaches and bud­dies need to pos­sess are ex­cite­ment to work with the girls, a will­ing­ness to learn more about the girls they’re work­ing with and a de­sire to be a pos­i­tive role model for young girls,” says Ken­zie Kramer, com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor for Girls on the Run In­ter­na­tional, adding that you don’t even need to con­sider your­self a run­ner. You’ll go through a back­ground check, and for coach­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties, a train­ing ses­sion, too. (Head coaches also have to be CPR and first-aid cer­ti­fied.)

4. Lend your coach­ing skills. 5. Help staff a race.

If you’ve ever done any type of fit­ness race, whether a marathon, triathlon or cen­tury, you know that vol­un­teers make th­ese events tick. For in­stance, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Se­ries, which hosts races in 25 cities in North Amer­ica and four in Europe, re­lies on 500 to 2,000 lo­cal vol­un­teers at each event. “Each vol­un­teer ex­pe­ri­ence, whether large or small, is vi­tal to the Rock ‘n’ Roll race week­end, sup­port­ing thou­sands of peo­ple who are achiev­ing their goals,” says Am­ber Lopez, se­nior man­ager of vol­un­teer ser­vices for Rock ‘n’ Roll. Vol­un­teer op­por­tu­ni­ties, for in­stance, might in­clude reg­is­ter­ing par­tic­i­pants, hand­ing out T-shirts and swag bags at the health and fit­ness expo, di­rect­ing par­tic­i­pants to start cor­rals, man­ning wa­ter sta­tions dur­ing the race, and as­sist­ing par­tic­i­pants board­ing shut­tles pre­and post-race.

5 ways to use your en­thu­si­asm for ex­er­cise to help oth­ers

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