What are things we do to improve our lives? Eat well, exercise often, and avoid harmful habits like smoking and excessively drinking alcohol. We know that giving back to our communities is a good thing to do for others, but does this also physically change our brain chemistry and make us happier?
A new study by Dr. Suzanna Richards and colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School in Exeter, UK, reviewed 40 studies on the link between volunteering and health. Published in BMC Public Health, Richard’s study finds that volunteering is associated with lower depression, increased well-being, and a 22 percent reduction in the risk of dying.
Richards’ study is unique in procedure. Past studies on volunteering and health often used already active volunteers for the study. The studies followed those participants and compared it to data on non-volunteers. Although this is one of many valid methods to test a correlation between volunteering and health, the bias is large. People with free time to volunteer are sometimes more financially secure, allowing them to comfortably volunteer on off hours. Also, people that volunteer must be in sufficient health to physically do certain tasks that volunteering requires. Non-volunteers may be disadvantaged financially or have issues related to health, preventing them from having the time to volunteer. It is not surprising that in a few years the active volunteers are still looking good.
Dr. Richards acknowledged the pretty significant bias and developed a method to work around it. Her study randomly selected and tracked participants, none of which volunteer regularly. Volunteering was a lifestyle change analogous to change in diet and exercise patterns for all of her participants.
Findings that are unique to this study:
- Previous research finds that volunteering only has benefits for people who do it in order to help others, rather than to do it for themselves. So, please pick a cause you care about and do it with your heart.
- This study finds that volunteering is particularly beneficial to religious people. Perhaps because they are affirming their most cherished beliefs to help and serve others.
- Past findings show that too much volunteering can be harmful for some people. In this study’s findings, health decreases were never significant enough to outweigh betterment of health. If your volunteering practices are more of a burden than a blessing, it may be time to scale back.
So...if you want to live a happier, healthier life, take all the usual precautions that your doctor recommends, and then get out there and share your time with those who need it. That’s the compassionate cure. And if you're looking for addtional reasons to volunteer, check out these other benefits:
- Why Volunteering Makes People Better Citizens
- How Volunteering Will Help You Reach Your New Year's Resolutions
- Why Volunteers are More Likely to Land Jobs
Are you actively volunteering or about to start? Learn about how MobileServe can help you track, monitor, and share the volunteer work you're doing in your community. It's free for individual volunteers!