Volunteer for a healthier, happier 2019
5 health benefits of giving back
Feb 6, 2019 · Muriel Vega
Volunteering makes an immeasurable difference in the lives of others. But did you know that by giving back, you also help yourself? Whether it’s through a company program or on your own, volunteering and connecting with those in need can make you more optimistic, happier, and, yes, healthier.
Researchers have concluded that kinder people lead longer lives. A University of California, Berkeley study found that seniors who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die over the next five years than those who didn’t.
Incorporating volunteering into your regular routine, just like exercising, can help you prioritize your wellness year-round. Not sure where to start? Reach out to see if your company or local community groups offer volunteering opportunities.
“Volunteering should be promoted by public health, education, and policy practitioners as a kind of healthy lifestyle,” concluded the researchers of a 2017 study that explored the beneficial effects of volunteering, including better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, and lower depressive symptoms.
Here are five key health benefits you can look forward to, no matter how old you are:
- Volunteering helps you stay physically and mentally active. A study in The Journals of Gerontology found that volunteering, especially tutoring, helps older adults stay sharp longer and maintain cognitive function. Activities like reading to others, going over complex concepts, and problem-solving may help stave off dementia, improve mental well-being, and give volunteers a sense of purpose (PDF, 2.9MB).
- Contribution helps lower stress levels. A 2015 study published in Clinical Psychological Science found that proactively doing acts of kindness for friends and family can help reduce the impact of daily stressors and boost your overall mental health. “Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days,” explained study author Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine.
- Giving back can help your self-esteem soar. The “helper’s high” is real. Almost 50% of participants in one Berkeley study felt more energy and enhanced self-esteem after giving back (PDF,102KB) to their communities through volunteering. Another study also found this to be true in teens – the more acts of kindness they performed, the higher self-esteem they displayed. In some cases, volunteering can also reduce the risk of depression across different age groups.
- Volunteering reduces the risk of high blood pressure and other chronic conditions. Along with effectively managing stress, volunteering has been shown to reduce blood pressure in people who are 50 years old and older, according to a 2013 study from Carnegie Mellon University. “Here, we wanted to determine if a positive lifestyle factor like volunteer work could actually reduce disease risk. And, the results give older adults an example of something that they can actively do to remain healthy and age successfully,” said lead study author Rodlescia Sneed, at Carnegie Mellon University.
- Being involved in your community can help you live longer. A 2012 study from the Health Psychology journal found that people who regularly volunteer can lead a longer, more meaningful life. But there’s a catch – it was only if their intentions were altruistic and only to serve others. A 2010 Harvard Business School survey (PDF, 242KB) found that those who are regularly altruistic, from volunteering to monthly charitable donations, consistently showed greater happiness and better health.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that the essence of life is “to serve others and do good” and that happiness is found “by loving rather than in being loved.” Giving back to your community and taking the time to listen and help others can improve their lives and yours, as well. Commit a few hours a month to the cause of your choice and reap the health benefits that come with volunteering. You’ll be helping others to thrive and surpass their struggles.