Exercise for a cause image People exercise for many reasons: to lose weight, improve cardiovascular fitness or flexibility, maintain overall health, and even for sheer enjoyment. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans do not get enough exercise. In fact, Americans have steadily become more sedentary—and more obese —in recent years. Aside from the commonly reported lack of time barrier, many people lack motivation to keep themselves moving. They simply aren’t concerned enough with their own health and fitness level to go the distance and begin an exercise routine.

Well, here is a different way to energize your exercise plan, which may help you add miles—and meaning—to your workout: exercise for a cause. The benefits include achieving your personal fitness goals and raising money and awareness at the same time. Now, that’s a winning combination. And you won’t be doing the job alone; since group activities hold greater potential to garner resources than solo missions, exercising for a cause usually provides a social outlet as well. So, to get you started, here is a sampling of the countless opportunities that are available.

Walks for Hunger

In cities throughout the United States, thousands of people come together to raise awareness and funds to help alleviate hunger in their area. The Walk for Hunger in Massachusetts, for instance, is the oldest pledge walk in the country; the 2005 Walk is their 37th annual event.

Pledge walks are those in which the walkers collect donations that are then submitted to the sponsoring organization. Annual hunger walks in cities throughout the country are also organized by the organization CROP WALK, which is currently using a portion of their donations towards tsunami relief as well. Like most other national events, the CROP WALK website allows you to search by region to find a walk near you.

Cancer Research and Awareness

Some of the most well recognized national events are intended to support survivors of breast cancer , to honor those who have passed, and to raise awareness and money for research. Popular walks and runs include the Breast Cancer 3-Day, the Komen Race for the Cure, and the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

In addition, a new event came into being six years ago when thirteen women power-walked the New York Marathon wearing decorated bras to raise awareness and support for breast cancer research and patient care. Men and women around the country and abroad now participate in these “Walk the Walk” marathons, wearing decorated bras and raising impressive amounts of money for a very worthy cause. Their motto: “To raise money, raise awareness, get fit, and have fun.”

Breast cancer is not the only cancer cause, however. The “Light the Night” Walk is a nationwide evening event organized by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to raise awareness of blood cancers and fund research for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, and myeloma. During the event, in which both adults and children are welcome, participants carry illuminated balloons to celebrate and honor the lives of those touched by cancer. There are similar national events for prostate cancer , lung cancer , colon cancer , and other cancers.

9/11 and the War in Iraq

Several events have honored those who died in 9/11, as well as the Iraq War. One year a Boston-area event, the James Joyce Ramble, which donates funds from the annual 10K to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, additionally honored the lives and sacrifices of soldiers who have died in Iraq. Each runner was assigned the name of one deceased soldier, the name appeared on the runner’s bib. Runners were able to read about the soldier they ran in honor of.

You don’t necessarily need to participate in an organized event in order to exercise for a cause, however. If you are passionate about a cause, you can set your own fitness goals to achieve “meaningful movement.” For example, one man was not particularly self-motivated to exercise, but did feel compelled to act in honor of those who died in the 9/11 attacks. So he set a personal fitness goal: to run one mile in honor of every man or woman who was killed. He achieved this goal, in so doing showing respect for both his own health and the lost lives of others.

It's Your Choice

Whatever domestic or international causes you are interested in, there is likely an active event—be it walking, running, cycling, or swimming—that you can find to participate in. An excellent source for identifying events is the website: http://www.active.com . This site offers an expansive list of both individual and team events that occur all around the country throughout the year. Some events have sponsorship and simply require registration fees, while others are pledge events, which require that you collect donations to submit to the cause.

In addition to working on personal fitness goals through both training and participation in these events, involving yourself in meaningful movement will enrich your life by allowing you to meet new people, have fun, and contribute to worthy causes. You might also hear about other opportunities that interest you, or even receive some personal coaching and training as part of your participation.

To begin on your pathway to meaningful movement, search for events in your area and initiate a training schedule. You might also consider participating in events in other states or countries, and scheduling them as part of a vacation. Make sure to plan far enough in advance that you are able to raise the necessary pledge money (if required) and to adequately train for the event. Also, consider enlisting friends, colleagues, your spouse, or other family members as training and event partners. That way you’re spreading the good word—which might also help keep you motivated to stay on task.