Volunteer! It's good for you!

Alli Walsh, Social Media Strategist

Volunteer! It's good for you!

Are you among the 62.6 million Americans who donated a total of 7.9 billion volunteer hours during 2015? If so, you may be surprised to learn that not only did you do good work that benefitted those in need or a cause you feel strongly about, you also did some good for yourself.

For years, research has suggested the selfless act of volunteering has benefitted the giver in addition to those who received, primarily in relation to mental health. But recent studies imply a connection between volunteerism and improved physical health as well. Giving to others seems to deliver a healthier body, mind and soul to those who choose to share their time and talents serving others.2

Physical benefits

A recent four-year study  of those who volunteered at least 200 hours per year for 12 months before the analysis determined a relationship between volunteerism and lower risk of developing hypertension or high blood pressure. The same study showed this group of volunteers to have an improved sense of well-being, as well as increased physical activity. While there’s more research to be done to determine the reasons behind physical benefits to volunteerism, the initial results support a potential physical payoff from doing good deeds.

Mental benefits

There’s a bit more historical information when it comes to mental health benefits. Improved mental health for those is seen in those who volunteer, especially for people over the age of 40 who are able to donate more of their time than their younger volunteering peers. Time spent volunteering seems to build a connection to others and the world itself, leading to a strong sense of purpose. In many studies, positive mental health improvements grew as people aged and their volunteering time increased.

Another study that reviewed and analyzed data from 40 research papers, nine trials and 15 cohort studies saw increases in feelings of well-being and life satisfaction, lower reports of depression and a 20 percent mortality decrease among those who volunteer regularly.

Soulful benefits

It’s simple, doing good feels good. Just ask anyone who has spent time working with or for people in need. And according to many studies, giving of yourself for the benefit of others and knowing you’re making a difference seems to boost the various benefits that volunteers experience. If there’s a common thread among the various research on the health benefits of volunteerism, it’s that the benefits—body, mind and soul—are interconnected and complicated, and more research will clarify just how beneficial volunteering can be.

In the meantime, there’s no denying the benefits received by those who need the services and efforts provided by those who volunteer. Take time this summer to prioritize volunteering into your lifestyle. Find local opportunities that match your passions at sites like VolunteerMatch or the Corporation for National and Community Service.

References:

1 "National." Corporation for National and Community Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 May 2017.

2 Watson, Stephanie. "Volunteering may be good for body and mind." Harvard Health Blog. N.p., 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 May 2017.

Sneed, Rodlescia S., and Sheldon Cohen. "A prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults." American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, June 2013. Web. 29 May 2017.

Sifferlin, Alexandra. "Aging: Volunteering Helps Mental Health As People Age." Time. Time, 09 Aug. 2016. Web. 29 May 2017.

Wood, Janice. "Volunteering Can Improve Mental Health, Extend Life." Psych Central News., 06 Oct. 2015. Web. 29 May 2017.

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