Volunteering, whether it is in your community or outside, can be immensely rewarding. And while you will be transforming the lives of the people you are helping, it can do you a world of good too! As little as 100 hours a year could positively impact your mental well being, physical health, and relationships.1
There are different kinds of volunteering roles for you to consider. Some are emotional support in a caregiver’s capacity, some entail hard labor doing physical work, and others leverage you as a psychological support system for those who need it. Whatever you choose, you could make a difference and benefit from it personally too. Here’s why you should consider volunteering for a good cause.
Health Benefits Of Volunteering
1. Boost Your Self-Esteem
Volunteering, as selfless as it may seem, can actually help boost your own self-esteem. It does this by giving you a sense of purpose, making you more satisfied with your life in general, and making you feel good about what you are doing or contributing.2 This is especially strong among older adults who are no longer the primary wage earners or whose children have flown the nest. For such individuals, their major role or identity as they know it no longer exists. Volunteering can create a renewed sense of self in such instances.3
2. Improve Mental Health
Research has found a link between volunteering and mental health. In one study of several thousand households in the UK, over multiple years, it was found that those who spent some of their time volunteering on a regular basis had a higher level of mental well-being than those who had never given their time to volunteer work.
The difference was starker among older test subjects, with those aged 40 and over benefiting most from the activity. The researchers suggested that the activity of volunteering may give people a greater sense of purpose later in life, compared to when they were younger and might view it as more of an “obligation.”4
3. Reduce Risk Of Depression
If you volunteer, it could help ease symptoms of depression and lower your risk of being depressed in the first place. As one study found, if you are older, volunteering can also offer respite from social isolation that plagues many at this stage of life. This translates to decreased risk of depression, improvement in the quality of life overall, as well as greater satisfaction with life in general.5
4. Improve Overall Health
If you thought volunteering only helps with your emotional and psychological well-being, think again! Some research suggests that volunteering might translate to better physical health too.
BMI and Cholesterol Levels: One study of high school students found that the activity of volunteering positively impacted body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol levels. Those who volunteered once a week for a two-month period ended the study with a relatively lower BMI and cholesterol levels than those who did not volunteer but had similar BMI and cholesterol levels to start with. Researchers attributed this effect to the improved self-esteem and mood of the volunteer group.6
Blood Pressure: A separate study found that subjects who had volunteered for 200 hours or more in the year prior to the study had a lower risk of developing hypertension than non-volunteers. Those with lower hours of volunteering did not have any significant benefit as far as hypertension was concerned.7
While some studies have confirmed these health-based benefits, do remember that we still need larger and more extensive studies to back these up. So don’t look at volunteering as a cure for a cholesterol problem or other health issues just yet. But if you reap these benefits as well in the bargain, what’s not to love?
Fitness Levels: If you take on a physically demanding volunteering job, you are likely to see physical results too. For instance, if you are working on a construction site or doing heavy lifting, it will help you burn calories while you do good. Even indoor jobs like helping with painting, cleaning, or sorting books in a library as your volunteer work could entail a fair bit of lifting weights, squatting, stretching, and more.8
5. Lower Mortality
As the Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development, points out, volunteering or giving social support has even been linked to lower mortality risk for volunteers. People who supported their relatives, friends, and neighbors were found to live longer lives.9
6. Enhance Cognitive Function
Volunteer work has added benefits for brain function. Seniors who mentored youth in academics and reading showed improved cognitive function, especially in the region of the brain responsible for organizing and planning daily life. Researchers said this was because of the changes in brain activation patterns in the elderly as a result of volunteering.10
7. Help Others To Help Yourself
For some people, the opportunity to volunteer can mean a chance to overcome their own obstacles and challenges.
Manage Chronic Pain: Researchers found in a study that peer volunteers who were dealing with chronic pain themselves experienced a drop in their own pain intensity and disability levels as well as depression after they started helping others who had chronic pain.11
Quit Smoking: If you have been a smoker, volunteering your time to help other smokers quit could help you quit smoking too!12
Reduce Binge Drinking: Other anecdotal evidence suggests that when it comes to binge drinking on university campuses, volunteering could even help reduce how much you drink compared to people who don’t volunteer.13
8. Improve Your Family Relationships
Older volunteers tend to have better equations with their own families than people of their age who do not volunteer. Experts have suggested that this might be because they aren’t as reliant or dependent on their family members.14 Plus, with better mental well-being and less tendency to be depressed, they are in a better position to cultivate healthy relationships with the family.
|↑1, ↑8||The Health Benefits of Volunteering. National Women’s Health Resource Center.|
|↑2, ↑6||The Health Benefits of Giving. Rush University Medical Center.|
|↑3, ↑9||Corporation for National, Community Service (US). Office of Research, and Policy Development. The health benefits of volunteering: A review of recent research. Corporation for National & Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development, 2007.|
|↑4||Tabassum, Faiza, John Mohan, and Peter Smith. “Association of volunteering with mental well-being: a lifecourse analysis of a national population-based longitudinal study in the UK.” BMJ open 6, no. 8 (2016): e011327.|
|↑5, ↑12, ↑13, ↑14||Should I volunteer?. National Health Service.|
|↑7||Sneed, Rodlescia S., and Sheldon Cohen. “A prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults.” Psychology and aging 28, no. 2 (2013): 578.|
|↑10||Carlson, Michelle C., Kirk I. Erickson, Arthur F. Kramer, Michelle W. Voss, Natalie Bolea, Michelle Mielke, Sylvia McGill, George W. Rebok, Teresa Seeman, and Linda P. Fried. “Evidence for neurocognitive plasticity in at-risk older adults: the experience corps program.” Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biomedical Sciences and Medical Sciences 64, no. 12 (2009): 1275-1282.|
|↑11||Arnstein, Paul, Michelle Vidal, Carol Wells-Federman, Betty Morgan, and Margaret Caudill. “From chronic pain patient to peer: Benefits and risks of volunteering.” Pain Management Nursing 3, no. 3 (2002): 94-103.|