Often, when people think of volunteering, they think of the benefits to those who are served. While volunteers provide crucial support to disadvantaged people, alarming crises, and the advancement of the common good, they also experience important benefits of their very own. In fact, much research has revealed that volunteers actually experience better physical and emotional health than non-volunteers.
You might be asking, “How?” Lucky for you, we’ve dug up the answers. Read on to learn more.
Volunteering leads to better physical health.
Numerous studies have found that volunteers feel more functionally capable than non-volunteers. A study conducted by UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch (UHC-VM) found that, when compared to non-volunteers, volunteers reported better levels of immunity, physical strength, energy, and physical stamina. Similarly, a research review conducted by the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS) suggested that people who volunteer regularly feel more active and engaged, which can lead to a better personal assessment of physical ability.
Additionally, a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University reveals that volunteers aged 50 and older seem less likely to develop high blood pressure, a health problem that can lead to heart disease and strokes. Researchers speculate that the reason for this correlation might be that volunteering reduces stress, keeps people physically active, and engages their minds. It is important to note that the individuals whose blood pressure did not increase volunteered at least 200 hours within 12 months. This suggests that it is regular volunteering, as opposed to temporary or sporadic volunteering, that produces the health benefit.
Finally, a study reported in Health Psychology (HP) aligns with conclusions reached by CNCS, reporting a link between regular volunteering and lower mortality rates. Interestingly, HP’s study found that lower mortality rates specifically correlated to people who volunteered out of pure altruism, not because they wanted something in return.
Volunteering leads to better mental health.
Often, better physical health leads to better mental health, and this relationship seems to be true among those who regularly volunteer. UHC-VM’s study shows that volunteering seems to affect a person’s sense of purpose, leading to a positive outlook on life and an overall satisfaction with life.
Furthermore, CNCS’s research review noted that, especially among older adults who face such life changes as retirement or loss, volunteering provides senses of direction and personal accomplishment. Plus, it engages these volunteers with other people, strengthening their social ties and preventing them from experiencing depressing periods of isolation. As a result, people feel like their lives have meaning at a time when major changes could lead to a feeling of hopelessness.
Indeed, instead of hopelessness, many volunteers feel what researchers call the “helper’s high,” or the state of euphoria people experience when they give of themselves. Many scientific studies have indicated that giving either money or time to a charity stimulates the same area where the brain registers pleasure. In his essay on the subject, James Baraz found that compassionate feelings as well as compassionate action help people focus their attention away from things that trouble or depress them. When they are engaged in compassionate action, like volunteering, people are energized and filled with a greater sense of happiness.
Volunteering leads to stronger social ties.
Within the benefits described above is a common by-product: strengthened social connections. As the UHC-VM study indicates, many volunteers report that volunteering leads to increased comfort socializing with others and new or deepened personal relationships. Volunteering with others roots people in a shared sense of purpose and teamwork, which leads to a greater sense of life satisfaction. Furthermore, sharing a common activity with other people is a great way to prompt conversations, establish personal and professional connections, and experience camaraderie, all of which lead to happier, healthier people.
Isn’t it amazing that, simply by volunteering, you can experience such an impressive array of benefits? If you already are a regular volunteer, you’ve probably experienced this. If you’re thinking of taking a first step into volunteering, let this be the moment you decide. The New Year is waiting for you to make this year a special one.