To volunteer is to donate your time without expecting any compensation for your efforts. While the primary goal of volunteering is to help others and the community, research suggests that volunteering is associated with positive health benefits, as well.
How Volunteering Impacts Health
According to a Carnegie Mellon study, 200 volunteer hours per year correlated to lower blood pressure among participants in their study. Other studies have reported health benefits in those who volunteer for 100 hours each year. Part of the reason for this might be that volunteering reduces stress.
Additionally, volunteering has been linked to a decrease in depression. This is because of dopamine being released in the brain, as well as the social interactions and support system you gain when volunteering regularly. Volunteering has also been linked to an increase in overall brain activity.
Volunteering provides a personal sense of accomplishment and an increased sense of purpose. The benefits of volunteering are most strongly seen in older adults. In terms of morality rates, those who give social support have lower mortality rates than those who don’t. Volunteering is one way to achieve this, but even providing support to friends, relatives and neighbors can have an effect.
Is All Volunteer Work Equal?
Regardless of the volunteer work you do, you’re likely to reap the health benefits. This means you can pick whatever organization or cause you care most about.
It is speculated that if you volunteer by doing mentally stimulating activities, like tutoring or reading, it could keep your mind and memory sharp. Similarly, if your volunteer work promotes physical activity, you could reap the health benefits typically associated with physical activity, such as increased cardiovascular health.
The most important part of volunteering might be the attitude you have. For example, a study published in the journal of Health Psychology found that volunteers only lived longer if they had truly altruistic intentions. This means that they were volunteering from the goodness of their hearts — aiming to help others without expecting anything in return.
If there’s a cause you’re passionate about, I urge you to dedicate some of your time each month to volunteer your time. Monetary donations are fantastic and always appreciated, but many organizations need helping hands and year-round support to accomplish their missions. While helping a good cause, you might benefit in ways you never thought possible.