The Benefits of Volunteering

It’s a given that volunteering makes a difference in the lives of others, but we don’t always consider the benefits of volunteering. It has been shown to lower stress, help keep us physically and mentally active and possibly lower our mortality rate. The health benefits of volunteering regardless of the type of volunteer job are enormous. The Mayo Clinic Health Systems listed the following benefits of volunteering:

-Decreases the risk of depression

– Gives a sense of purpose

-Helps people stay active

-May reduce stress levels

-Might help you live longer

-Helps you meet others and develop new relationships

Volunteering decreases the risk of depression. Researchers found this especially true for individuals 65 and better. Because of COVID, Americans have seen an increase in isolation, and new research suggests that one in three Americans are experiencing anxiety and/or depression. Some research indicates that people who start out with lower levels of well-being might actually get an even bigger boost from volunteering.

Volunteering gives a sense of purpose. It also provides an opportunity to learn valuable skills. The need for help is great and every little bit helps. Go check out the Starfish story if you want to get inspired. On top of that, a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies noted that people who volunteered were more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better.

Volunteering helps people stay physically and mentally active. Volunteer activities get you moving and thinking.  One study found these benefits especially true for participants 60 and better. Another study found that volunteers overall report better physical health versus non-volunteers. Older volunteers were found to experience the greatest increase in life satisfaction, a bi-product of volunteering. One study for Baltimore Experience Corporation found that volunteers over 50 took more steps daily (even when they were not volunteering), they were less clinically depressed and had better cognitive skills than those who did not volunteer. Another study by John Hopkins University in 2009 found that volunteers actually increased their brain functioning.

Volunteering may reduce stress levels. Volunteering might enhance a person’s social network and this might help buffer stress and possibly reduce the risk of other chronic diseases. Focusing on time spent helping others provides a sense of meaning and appreciation which can reduce stress in itself. Volunteering can offer a sense of control amid stressful situations.

Volunteering may help you live longer. From the Longitudinal Study of Aging, they found that individuals who volunteered had a lower mortality rate, even when age, gender, and physical health were taken into consideration. On top of that, several studies have shown that volunteers with serious or chronic illnesses report a decline in pain intensity and depression when helping others in chronic pain.  A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that volunteers who averaged 2-3 hours per week of service, were 40% less likely to develop blood pressure- even four years later!

Volunteering helps you meet others and develop new relationships. One of the best ways to make new friends as well as strengthen existing friendships is to participate in a shared activity. Volunteers meet new people and often with a common interest. When you volunteer with others it increases your social interaction and helps build a support system based on like interests and common commitments. Volunteering with friends gives you an opportunity to grow closer as you spend more time together.

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