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The Health Benefits of Volunteering in Your Community

If you’re thinking about lending your time to a volunteer organization, consider this: not only will you have the opportunity to greatly and positively affect the lives of others, you could be doing your health a world of good.

Over the past two decades, there has been increasing research showing that volunteering provides both individual health and social benefits. Indeed, volunteering gives people a sense of purpose, improves their self-esteem, and helps them connect with others. It also can lessen pain.

There’s even more to the strong relationship between volunteering and health. Compared with people who do not volunteer, people who do have:

  • Lower mortality rates
  • Greater functional ability
  • Lower rates of depression later in life

Plus, mounting evidence suggests that those who volunteer experience greater health benefits than those who receive support through these activities.

Want even more reasons to get involved?

It turns out that volunteering can help you burn calories and be more active, according to a recent study in the Journal of Urban Health. Older adults who donated their time and skills at local schools doubled their time spent being active each week. They also burned 40% more calories per week. Their activities included walking and climbing stairs.

Not only that, but you can benefit from the interaction with other people. Volunteering can help you to cultivate a circle of friends and social support. Lots of studies have shown that such social support is good for your health. According to the American Institute of Stress, these benefits include:

  • Cushioning your body against the damage that stress can do. For example, social support can reduce the spike in blood pressure and harmful hormones that usually accompanies stress.
  • Helping you get through difficult times by providing security, a sense of belonging and self-worth.
  • Lowering death rates following a heart attack.
  • Ensuring longer life and a better quality of life among people with some types of cancer.

Ready to get involved?

Take these steps towards getting involved in your community.

  1. Consider a cause you care about. You can visit a website like VolunteerMatch.org  to find a cause near you, based on your interests.
  2. Help from home. If you aren’t able to get out to volunteer, you can still lend a hand. Armed with your telephone, you can be a peer-support counselor. Or you can even narrate books for people with visual disabilities.
  3. Try "virtual volunteering." You can even get involved online. Offer to be an e-mail pen pal, tutor or mentor. Other organizations may need help on their websites.

The most important thing is to get started. Help others and yourself by searching for a volunteer organization today.

Sources: American Institute of Stress, Corporation for National & Community Service, Journal of Urban Health, Krames Staywell