Photo: ThinkstockBy Corrie Pikul
Volunteering can be a decent weight-loss alternative to going to the gym, and recent research has found that 68 percent of volunteers said they felt physically healthy after donating their time, while 98 percent--that's just about everyone--claimed it made them feel happy and joyful, says Stephen G. Post, professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University and author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping. Here's the breakdown on how doing good can make you feel and look great.
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Serve a Hot Meal to Someone Who Needs ItNearly 49 million people in this country go hungry, says the nonprofit organization Feeding America. That's 1 in 6 of the U.S. population--including more than 1 in 5 children. Check the Feeding America web site for food banks in your area, or search online for your city name plus "soup kitchen."
Calories burned: 537 for a three-hour shift of serving food and setting tables (more if you're lifting boxes or cans).
Muscles worked: Forearms (carrying dishes); legs (walking around tables).
Karmic bonus: The more people who get something to eat, the merrier everyone feels.
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Put (or Fix) a Roof over Someone's Head
Since 1976, volunteers with Habitat for Humanity have been helping to build homes for disadvantaged families in the U.S. and around the world. Overwhelmed by the idea of starting from the ground up? A few years ago, Habitat launched a smaller-scale revitalization program called A Brush with Kindness, which involves painting and fixing up existing homes that have fallen into disrepair, often because low-income homeowners have been hit by a hurricane, tornado, job loss or medical emergency.
Calories burned: A whopping 1,720 for a full day of carpentry, installing rain gutters or building fences. 1,432 for a day of painting and weather-stripping.
Muscles worked: Shoulders (be sure to switch arms while painting); back and quads (carrying bags, bricks and wooden beams); heart (walking around the site). Make sure you can squat easily, lift a brick in both hands and carry them for two laps around your house.
Karmic bonus: A shelter becomes a home.
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Assist the Elderly
Grocery shopping can be a logistical nightmare for the elderly: For those who live in cities that were originally designed to accommodate fit, mobile pedestrians, it's a pain to schlep bags down the street and on and off buses. Older folks in suburban or rural areas usually can't walk to the nearest grocery store, which is even harder for the ones who've had to give up their license. This is why seniors often resort to high-sodium processed foods from the nearest convenience store. Many cities have volunteer programs where you can shop for someone less spry while picking up your own groceries; check VolunteerMatch.com to find one in your area.
Calories burned: 210 for an hour of shopping and 15 minutes of putting groceries away (you'll burn 89 more calories if you carry the bags upstairs).
Muscles worked: Quads, calves, biceps, shoulders (lifting, carrying, reaching up to shelves and cabinets, walking and climbing stairs). To maximize the burn, take multiple trips from the car or up the stairs, carrying lighter bags but moving at a faster speed.
Karmic bonus: Someone's world feels a little cozier.
Teach Kids About Tolerance
Making art with kids is one way to get them thinking about harmony on the playground as well as peace in the world. Don't worry if you never earned your own Banner-Making Badge--noncrafty types can borrow ideas from an online YouTube tutorial or a 3D lesson to teach kids how to fold origami paper cranes (remember International Day of Peace on September 21) or make a peace calendar using this lesson from the web site TeachPeaceNow.org.
Calories burned: 107 for one hour of light arts and crafts. Standing while crafting burns more energy, and some believe that it helps get the creative juices flowing.
Muscles worked: Fingers, forearms--and your brain.
Karmic bonus: The kids learn how to tap into their inner Yoko Ono.
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