Share The Care: 4 Health Benefits Of Volunteering
If you’ve ever volunteered, whether you handed out hot lunches at your local homeless shelter or helped to build a new home with Habitat for Humanity, you know that “giving of yourself” just feels good. Here at Carepoynt, it’s important to us to give back to the communities in which we live and work, and to help our members do the same by enabling them to donate Poynts to charitable causes. But did you know that volunteering actually has a number of proven health benefits? Here’s how doing good does your body (and soul) good.
1. Decreased risk of depression. Studies have shown that investing your time and effort for the good of others increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests and commitments—both of which have been proven to decrease depression. The act of setting aside your own needs in service of another’s, even for a single afternoon, can give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment that lasts long after that last meal is served, or the last wall is raised…not to mention the relationships you create in the process.
2. Increased brain function. A study conducted by Johns Hopkins University in 2009 revealed that volunteers experienced a boost in brain function during and after their service work. And in another controlled trial at St. Louis’ Washington University, seniors who tutored children reported improvements in stamina, memory and flexibility—as well as decreased incidence of depression. One researcher ties both the physical and mental benefits, at least in part, to having a renewed sense of purpose in life.
3. Lower cholesterol and weight loss. In one Canadian study, tenth graders who volunteered at an after-school program for younger children reported both weight loss and reduced cholesterol, when compared to non-volunteering peers. As reported in JAMA Pediatrics Journal, the researchers noted “these findings are significant because they indicate that youth who engage in volunteering not only help others, but also benefit themselves, suggesting a novel way to improve health while simultaneously making positive contributions to society.
4. Reduced blood pressure and lower stress. In a 2013 Carnegie Mellon University study published in Psychology and Aging, researchers found that over-50 adults who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than peers who did not participate in give-back programs. According to the study’s lead author, this particular finding could have multiple contributing factors. Performing volunteer work might cause an increase in physical activity, or a decrease in day-to-day stress—both of which can lower blood pressure.
One interesting caveat, though—a 2012 study published in the journal Health Psychology found that one’s motives for volunteering actually impacted any health benefits subjects might experience. Participants who volunteered regularly, with purely altruistic intentions did live longer than those who did not volunteer. However, those who volunteered for more selfish reasons (“to escape my own problems,” as one participant put it) had mortality rates similar to those who didn’t volunteer at all. It’s food for thought when you’re in that food line.
Not sure exactly how to give back to your community, or find a cause that inspires you? VolunteerMatch connects volunteers with non-profit organizations all over the world. Search by location, type of organization or even by the skills you have to offer—from answering phones to fostering rescue animals until they find forever homes. And remember, you can also “give back” by donating your Poynts to any of our charity partners…or redeem your Poynts for gift cards with hundreds of partners, which you can give to anyone.