Most people’s first consideration when they volunteer is the good of other people. However, in addition to contributing time and effort to benefit others, many recent studies suggest that volunteering is extremely good for volunteers themselves.
People who volunteer are regularly more happy, healthy, and report feeling more fulfilled. Volunteering is also an excellent way for people to socialize and prevent loneliness, which is itself a leading cause of poor health. Studies have linked volunteering to longevity as well. Companies who allow their employees to have paid time off to volunteer have experienced increased employee productivity and higher company morale.
Here are a few facts that may not be all that surprising to experienced volunteers, but reflect the somewhat lesser-known positive impact that volunteer hours can have in the lives of volunteers.
#1– People who volunteer are more likely to experience physical health benefits
According to the Harvard Health Blog, people with high rates of volunteerism (100-200 hours per year) seem to more frequently have lower blood pressure and reduced stress rates. While this statistic doesn’t necessarily indicate causation, it does indicate that volunteers tend to be healthy.
It may be common sense, but volunteering in any capacity is a healthy step up from sedentarism. People who engage in more active types of community service, such as helping out at a National Park or another outdoor location, may experience the most physical benefits, but even volunteering at a library can provide moderate exercise that reduces the risk of heart disease, which can in turn boost longevity.
There is a slight catch– usually the boost in overall health is linked to altruistic volunteering. While not necessarily unhealthy, volunteering to meet a certain quota of hours is less frequently linked to physical health benefits like reduction of blood pressure and less overall stress.
#2– People who volunteer are more likely to experience mental health benefits
Certain types of volunteering that entail reading and/or tutoring can improve the cognitive function and memory of volunteers as well as that of their pupils. Altruistic volunteering can also help cultivate a person’s empathy, social skills, and self-awareness.
The social connection that results from volunteering is hugely beneficial to volunteers’ ability to stave off mental illness. For retired volunteers in particular, volunteering is an excellent way to stay active and connected. It has been shown to significantly reduce depression rates, and increase happiness.
A report by the Corporation for National Community Service cited a Duke University study of patients with post-coronary artery disease who were recovering from heart attacks. Patients who volunteered during their recoveries reported significantly lower rates of depression and despair, both of which are linked to lower recovery and higher mortality rates (CNCS 9).
#3– Volunteering gives individuals a sense of purpose and builds community
The same CNCS report also found that the health benefits of regular volunteering are in part due to the feeling of accomplishment from service. Retired volunteers over the age of 65 are the most likely to experience a renewed sense of purpose. In fact, one study from the CNCS report found that older adults who engaged in community service had a higher rate of life satisfaction than their similarly-aged peers who worked for pay (CNCS 4).
Volunteering is a way to encounter local people and places. Often, volunteering in a group helps pass the time and makes service more enjoyable. When volunteers support local schools, nonprofits, and other organizations, the direct impact of their service benefits those organizations and builds community. Indirectly, though, volunteers build community by the simple act of working alongside one another.
If you’re considering volunteering somewhere, consider us! There Goes My Hero is always on the lookout for engaged volunteers. Our areas of need include bone marrow drives, major events, and virtual drives. To inquire about volunteer opportunities you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Balance Small Business: https://www.thebalancesmb.com/unexpected-benefits-of-volunteering-4132453
CNCS report on the health benefits of volunteering: https://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf
Harvard Health blog: health.harvard.edu/blog/volunteering-may-be-good-for-body-and-mind-201306266428