Physically Active for the Health of the Planet

Man running in marathon

Many Panda Ambassadors and other WWF supporters use athletics and physical activity to raise money and awareness for WWF's work, and for good reason. Activities like paddle boarding, biking, and running are fun and social, but there's a deeper connection that makes them particularly suited to WWF's message. For one thing, a lot of athletic activities take place outdoors—some in nature, some in local green spaces. For another, we depend on our environment to help us perform well as athletes—clean air is essential when the lungs start working overtime to provide extra oxygen, and we need clean water to stay hydrated. Ensuring that our planet is healthy enough to continue providing these resources is central to WWF's mission.

"Our athletic fundraisers have been very successful," says WWF's Breanna Giovanniello. Breanna works on Panda Nation, an online platform for supporters who want to fundraise on behalf of WWF. Panda Nation participants can register their fundraisers in one of four categories: athletics, special occasions, favorite animal, or create your own. Breanna says that while athletics isn't the most popular category, it is the one that brings in the most money. "If you sign up to run a marathon with us, there is a set amount that you will be required to raise, and a deadline by which you have to raise it," she explains. "I think that holds our fundraisers accountable."

Breanna adds that WWF is one of the only conservation organizations that fundraises with athletics. That position has its advantages and disadvantages. "I think people are more used to peer-to-peer fundraising for disease-related causes; they're not used to running races for the environment," Breanna says. However, for people who want to connect their commitment to physical activity with their love of nature, WWF and Panda Nation provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity.

"For me what it really comes down to is health," says Panda Ambassador Matheu Martell, "just generally being a healthy person in all aspects of my life." Matheu lead a team of four running the Chicago marathon in October to raise money for WWF. "I take care of my body; I take care of the place where I live," Matheu explains. "If we humans guard the health of our planet, then we in turn will be healthier. We’ll breathe cleaner air, we’ll drink cleaner water, and we won't suffer from a lack of resources."

The link between good health and access to nature and outdoor places is a well-studied phenomenon. Even if we're not working up a sweat, simple exposure to nature makes us healthier—mentally and physically. Time spent in nature can lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, increase energy levels, and even help alleviate anxiety and depression.

Getting people outdoors for fundraisers and awareness activities can even inspire a love of nature in people who might not have made that connection before. "Being active is an eye-opening experience," explains Matheu. "You're able to see more, you're able to experience more, the chemicals in your brain are more balanced, you're happier, more productive, and I think that all of these things in turn trigger passions in other areas."

But at the most fundamental level, our individual bodies are a microcosm of our planet. Both are irreplaceable, both are our homes, and both need to be treated well to sustain life in the long run. "I feel like being active and taking care of your body is kind of on the micro scale," Matheu explains. "On the macro scale, we all take care of the planet. It's just a bigger picture."

For an easy way to start incorporating athletics into your fundraising activities, Panda Ambassadors can visit Panda Nation. You'll see existing athletic events taking place all over the country, including obstacle courses, marathons, and 5K/10K races. And if you want to fundraise around your own athletic event, like a yoga class or a long distance bike ride, Panda Nation has tools for that as well.