Renew You Challenge: Do a favor for a friend

Helping others has the power to help make your day brighter. Here are nine ideas for lending a hand.

LIz Wallace
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The Renew You Challenge is the newest health and wellness experience from Renew by UnitedHealthcare® to help inspire you to take charge of your well-being every day. Every weekday in October, we’re sharing new ideas to help build up your body, mind and spirit.


Want to do something nice for yourself today? Do something nice for someone else — without expecting anything in return. Helping others doesn’t just make their day. It also helps you feel better physically and emotionally. 

Numerous studies show the many positive benefits of lending a hand on a regular basis, notes the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. Among the perks: better overall health, delayed mortality, better mental health, better quality of life and improved self-esteem. Even small acts of kindness, like picking up someone’s mail for them when they’re out of town, are associated with increased happiness for the giver. 

There’s even new evidence that suggests people with chronic pain may get a much-needed break from their pain when they help others. Turns out that the regions of the brain that react to painful stimulation are turned down significantly by the experience of giving. That was one of the findings of a series of 2019 studies that looked at different scenarios involving selfless acts of kindness, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

Another key takeaway: The more that people believed their actions to be helpful, the less their brain responded to pain. 

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“Being altruistic is just as good for you as it is for those you’re helping,” says Claudia Trudel-Fitzgerald, Ph.D., a researcher at the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Older adults who volunteer or lend their time and skills in other ways are more likely to report that they have a new sense of purpose and greater life satisfaction.” 

But giving to others shouldn’t become a competition about who can donate the most soup cans. “Everyday acts of kindness may not only improve the lives of others but also strengthen our own sense of worth,” says Trudel-Fitzgerald. 

9 Ways to Lend a Hand

With that in mind, we asked Trudel-Fitzgerald to help us brainstorm a few creative ways to do a favor for a friend. Perhaps one or more of these ideas will be just the thing you need to make someone else’s day — and your own.

1. Pick up the phone and ask. Sometimes the best idea is the simplest one: Call a close pal, neighbor or family member and ask if they need anything today that you might be able to help them with. 

Feel free to set boundaries — if you’re not up for watching kids or scooping out a litter box, make your offer to help more specific. You might say something like, I’m heading to the pharmacy later on, can I pick anything up for you while I’m there? 

2. Be their virtual IT department. If you’re comfortable using social media, video chatting and working smartphone apps, offer to help a pal who’s expressed frustration with new technology. Don’t forget to teach them how to take a screenshot, so they can preserve the smiles from their first video call.

3. Share a skill. Along those same lines, if you have a specific set of skills or expertise in something that you know is relevant to someone in your circle, let them know you’re there to help if and when it’s needed. 

4. Send them dinner. A surprise (or planned) home-cooked meal delivered to your friend can break up the monotony of cooking or eating the same thing every night. For a more personal touch, you could make your friend their favorite recipe and drop it off at their door. If you’re going the surprise route, consider cooking early in the day and delivering something that can be reheated. 

5. Water their garden. If a neighbor has difficulty getting outside regularly, offer to care for some of their plants during the week. If you’re in a city with a community garden, offer to water a pal’s section or harvest their vegetables. Then drop them off on their doorstep with a related recipe.

6. Buy them a fun mask and cleaning supplies. These days, one can never have enough disinfecting wipes or face coverings. If money permits, consider picking up some extras the next time you’re at the store and dropping them off for a friend or neighbor. Or, if you’re expecting a package, leave some outside your doorstep with a note for the delivery driver that says, Just for you, thanks!

7. Send snail mail. In a world overtaken by virtual interactions, receiving a humorous greeting card or quick note is not only a surprise, it feels like a gift. 

8. Share a memory. Have you been organizing paperwork and memorabilia? When you come across old photos of friends or family members, make a copy to mail or email to them for a joyful reminder of that special time. 

9. Get them excited for something. One of your friends mentions feeling bored? Brainstorm with them until you come up with an activity they’ll enjoy — anything from attending free online music concerts to starting a craft. Then join them, to give them a little more company!

Feel Your Best

Looking to improve your overall health? Don’t forget about your emotional well-being. Find new ways to help lower stress and improve your outlook with Renew Positivity. UnitedHealthcare®  Medicare Advantage members can learn more here. Not a member? Learn more here.


Catch up with the Renew You Challenge: 

Download your Renew You Challenge calendar

Day 1: Strengthen Your Core 
Day 2: Eat More Real Food Today
Day 3: Do These 6 Important Health Checks 
Day 4: Help Your Hips 
Day 5: Reframe a Negative Thought
Day 6: Help Improve Your Posture 
Day 7: Create a Wish List 
Day 8: Check Your Heart Health in 60 Seconds
Day 9: Help Prevent Falls 
Day 10: Give Your Brain a Workout 
Day 11: Tone Your Upper Body 
Day 12: Have a 10% Less Day
Day 13: Give Yourself a Massage
Day 14: Strengthen Your Total Body 
Day 15: Have a Different Conversation — With Yourself
Day 16: Loosen Up Your Tight Muscles 
Day 17: Reach Out to Someone Younger
Day 18: Head Back to (Virtual) School
Day 19: Break a Sweat