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Resolution No. 1: doing good while staying well

One of the Washington Post's MisFits, Lenny Bernstein, is guest-blogging for Jennifer Huget today:

Have you run, walked, cycled, swum, danced, aerobicized or bowled for dollars this year? I don't mean for yourself, of course. I mean for others who need the money a lot more.

If you have, you're part of a sizable charity force. If you haven't, maybe 2010 is the time to resolve to start.

Charity fitness events are so common that they are part of the landscape now. Especially when the weather is warm, it's hard to find a weekend when someone isn't staging some kind of athletic event to raise money for diabetes, autism, cancer, AIDS research or countless other causes. Endurance events are the most common, but that's not always the case. Some efforts are national in scope, others are small and local. Some take the money out of your entrance fee, while others ask you to collect as much as $6,000 in small donations from family, friends and acquaintances.

The benefits to you are plain: Spend an hour-- or two, or three, or 10-- working out at your favorite sport. Share the spirit and the karma with like-minded folks.

The benefits to recipients are sometimes not as obvious, but the money is sometimes critically needed. For a look at one small, local fundraiser that brought in $5,000 for a former ultra-marathoner who had lost his health insurance, see my next MisFits column, which will be online today and in Thursday's paper.

I checked around, and no one seems to keep a total of how much recreational athletes contributed to the more than $307.7 billion Americans gave to charity in 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. (Readers: if anyone knows where to find such a statistic, please send it in.)

But a couple of examples show the impressive potential of this mini-movement. About 3,500 people who ran the Marine Corps Marathon this year, for example, raised about $3.1 million, partnering with about 80 charities. The New York Marathon, which allocated 6,700 slots to charity runners, raised about $24 million, up from about $18 million last year. The Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a two-day bike ride, brought in $30.4 million for cancer care and research.

Now the bad news: The recession is making it more difficult for people to raise money, especially through endurance events. That $307 billion Americans gave to charity in 2008 was a 5.7 percent decline from 2007, the steepest drop since 1956. The Pan-Massachusetts' take was down 14 percent from 2008, the first time in the 30-year history of the ride that it declined, according to the Boston Globe.

So get out there in 2010 and add to the total. And send us your New Year's resolution to it's related to charity or just fitness--including how and why you intend to stick to your routine in 2010. We'll publish some of the best in January and may even help you reach those goals.

Need advice on what to eat to reach your fitness goals? Join Jennifer Huget and "Mindless Eating" author Brian Wansink for a discussion on mindless eating today at noon. Submit questions here.

By Washington Post editors  |  December 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
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