Volunteering and its Surprising Health Benefits
By Sharon Alguire, PA-C, Internal Medicine
Volunteering is a great way to help others, but you might not know there are possible health benefits for those who give their time and energy. Truth be told, volunteering is great for the mind, body, and soul. Studies have shown that individuals who regularly volunteer – particularly older adults – have a lower incidence of health-related illness and depression and generally feel healthier than those who do not. Volunteering is even more beneficial to those experiencing life stressors such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, job loss or illness.
An analysis of data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not. 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. The reason? Giving to others seems to decrease stress, which when uncontrolled, may lead to other types of health conditions. It also promotes social connections and positivity, both of which reduce stress. Another study shows that volunteering may increase the release of oxytocin which in some may produce a “feel good” type of high, as well as the feelings of connection, nurturing and empathy.
For professionals, volunteering as part of their work appears to have positive career benefits. According to a Forbes magazine article, this may be related to added networking and enhanced engagement and feeling of connectedness. These benefit the person volunteering as well as increasing work productivity and job longevity.
If you’re wondering if monetary donations produce the same benefits, unfortunately the answer is no. Although it feels good to financially support a good cause, it doesn’t seem to produce the physical health benefits that volunteering time produces.
With the holidays approaching, now is a great time to find volunteering opportunities. There are many great causes and often need extra help during the busy holiday season. But, don’t just make it a holiday tradition, give back to your community all year long.