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Volunteerism Helps Others AND Improves Your Health

by Roba Whiteley, Executive Director, Together Rx Access
When you volunteer to help others you also do something good for your health! Over the past two decades numerous studies have been done on the relationship between volunteering and improved health. The Corporation for National and Community Service reports volunteering leads to greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression, and less incidence of heart disease.

Here are just a few ways that volunteering can improve physical and mental health.
Volunteer
  • Provides a feeling of accomplishment. By engaging in volunteer activities, people usually experience a positive feeling about their self-being. They feel good about themselves and feel they are needed. This in turn can translate into improved self-worth and sense of purpose for what they have done through a volunteer activity.
  • Combat depression. Hobbies can help in the fight against depression. Research has shown that participating in activities that you enjoy, or have a flair for, can improve mental health. Hobbies keep you busy and happy. They help to reduce fatigue, loneliness and dull mood that are the root causes of depression. For example, activities like drawing, sculpting, and arts and crafts can help promote creativity of the mind. Also, if you try your hand at cooking or baking, you will be making others satisfied, which can be extremely gratifying.
  • Lowers risk for depression. Volunteering can help improve mental health and reduce the risk of depression by promoting social interaction. By staying in regular contact with others, you avoid social isolation, which can lead to depression. You also nurture relationships and develop a support system that can be important to managing stress and other challenges.
  • Helps you live longer. Volunteering is especially beneficial for older adults. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not, even when considering factors like the health of the participants. In fact, a study published in Psychological Science of older married adults found that those individuals who reported providing support to friends, relatives and neighbors had lower rates of mortality five years later than those who had not provided similar support.
  • Boosts your self-confidence. Volunteering can enhance self-confidence and self-esteem, and bring purposeful meaning to your life. Your role as a volunteer can offer a sense of identity as well. The more you give of yourself, the more satisfied you will be with your life.
  • Provide social support. Many hobbies involve group activities: community gardening, golf outings, knitting circles, and book clubs are good examples. Hobbies that connect you with others can provide social support. These types of hobbies also allow for the exchange of new ideas and skills, while offering a sense of camaraderie. According to a study by Brigham Young University Research, social interaction is not only important to a person's mental and physical health, but can positively impact longevity.
  • Reduces symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease. In a study reported by the Corporation for National and Community Service, people with chronic pain who volunteered as peer counselors found that their pain, disability and feelings of depression decreased. A Duke study also found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported less despair and depression.
  • Reduces the chance for poor health later in life. Evidence suggests that people who engage in volunteer activities at an earlier stage are less likely to suffer poor health later in life. A longitudinal study from the Assets and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old Study found that adults over the age of 70 who volunteered at least 100 hours during 1993 had less of a decline in self-reported health and functioning levels and lower levels of depression and mortality in 2000 than those who did not volunteer.
Your time makes a difference.
There is a correlation between time spent volunteering and maximum health benefit. Research has shown that investing 100 volunteer hours per year -- about two hours a week -- is the "threshold" you need to experience positive health outcomes. No additional benefits were reported beyond the 100-hour mark.

It is understandable that making a time commitment to volunteering may be difficult at first. That's why it might be a good idea to start slow by volunteering a couple hours a month. Sometimes doing a little may spark an interest in doing more.

For suggestions about how to get started volunteering and to find opportunities that are a good match, visit http://www.serve.gov/.

Source:
http://www.americorps.gov/about/newsroom/releases_detail.asp?tbl_pr_id=687
http://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr_brief.pdf
http://helpguide.org/life/volunteer_opportunities_benefits_volunteering.htm
http://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf

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