When many people think of volunteering, they mostly focus only on the benefits to others. What many people do not consider is the benefit to themselves.
Here are some of the many ways that volunteering can have a positive impact on your health and well being.
1. Volunteers have lower mortality rates.
According to a study by the Corporation for National & Community Service, “Those who gave social support to others had lower rates of mortality than those who did not, even when controlling for socioeconomic status, education, marital status, age, gender, and ethnicity.” Who needs a better reason to volunteer than living longer?
2. Volunteers not only live longer, they are happier.
Not only does volunteering do good, it feels good. When people volunteer, they feel a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment, thus leading to a healthier life. A study by the University of Exeter Medical School found volunteering can lead to lower rates of depression and increased feelings of fulfillment and happiness. According to Professor of Neuroscience David J. Linden, of Johns Hopkins University, “Your brain’s pleasure circuits are activated by acts of charity.” There you have it. The brain is actually wired to derive pleasure from charity!
3. Volunteers build social connections.
As we age, an important factor in maintaining well being is strong social connections. One of the best ways to build these new connections is through volunteering!
As a volunteer, you are likely to meet a variety of new people from diverse backgrounds, thus helping to build your social network. Making these new connections might even give you an opportunity to share or learn new skills. A report by the University of Minnesota showed that volunteering can lead to an increase in “social capital.” Social capital helps people feel happier and have a greater sense of empathy, and builds trust among individuals. Additionally, social capital can act as a social safety net in times of individual need.
4. Volunteers keep their brains healthy and active.
A 2009 study by John Hopkins University showed that volunteering can delay or even reverse decline in brain function among older adults. Researchers found that older volunteers saw increases in brain and cognitive function as a result of volunteering. The stimulation of meeting and working with new people helps to keep the brain sharp. As life expectancy increases and we continue to live longer, it will become increasingly important to keep our minds stimulated. Volunteering can be a great way to get the brain going!
5. Volunteers reduce their levels of stress.
We all know life can be stressful. One way to reduce our stress-load is by donating time. Distracting our minds from the day-to-day concerns of our own lives can reduce our cares and help us worry less. Even more, volunteering can give us a greater sense of gratitude for the positive aspects of our own lives.
The next time you think about volunteering, be sure to consider not only the benefits to others, but also the benefits to your own health and well being. Volunteering your time and skills is a great way to give back to the community, while also caring for yourself.
Want to make connections, give back to your community, and impact the lives of older adults? Iona has a number of volunteer opportunities for you. To learn more, visit our volunteer page here.
By Aaron Franke
Aaron Franke is a current graduate student at American University’s School of International Service where he is studying Global Governance, Politics, and Security. A recently returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served in China, Aaron enjoys traveling, reading, and trying new foods.