Helping People, Changing Lives: The Health Benefits of Volunteering

Helping People, Changing Lives: The Health Benefits of Volunteering article image

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Volunteers make an immeasurable difference in the lives of others. Oftentimes, they perform with the core intention of helping others. But did you know that volunteering can benefit your own health as well? Researchers have attempted to measure the benefits that volunteers receive, including the positive feeling referred to as helper’s high, increased trust in others and increased social interaction.

From lowering stress to boosting self-confidence, research has shown that volunteering offers many health benefits, especially for older adults.

1. Volunteering decreases the risk of depression. Research has shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression, especially for individuals 65 and older. Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests, both of which have been shown to decrease depression.

2. Volunteering increases self-confidence, gives a sense of purpose and teaches valuable skills. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals. Older adults, especially those who have retired or lost a spouse, can find new meaning and direction in their lives by helping others. Whatever your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your own worries, keep you mentally stimulated, and add more zest to your life.

3. Volunteering helps people stay physically and mentally active. Volunteer activities get you moving and thinking at the same time. One study found that volunteering among adults age 60 and over provided benefits to physical and mental health. Another study found that, in general, volunteers report better physical health than do non-volunteers. Older volunteers experience greater increases in life satisfaction and greater positive changes in their perceived health as a result of volunteering.

4. Volunteering may reduce stress levels. Volunteering may enhance a person’s social networks to buffer stress and reduce risk of disease. By savoring time spent in service to others, you will feel a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect.

5. Volunteering may help you live longer. An analysis of data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health. In addition, several studies have shown that volunteers with chronic or serious illness experience declines in pain intensity and depression when serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain.

6. Volunteering helps you meet others and develop new relationships. One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to participate in a shared activity together. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people who share common interests with you. Dedicating your time as a volunteer also helps you expand your network and practice social skills with others.