Volunteering: Give – and Receive the Gift of Health

You’re busy. Maybe you’re still working full-time. You may help with your grandkids, or care for a parent. Or you’re still chauffeuring your own children. And don’t forget everything that’s calling for your attention at home. 

You give, give and give. So, how could you even consider volunteering?

Volunteering gives back, answers Katie Christensen, manager of Volunteer Services at Upper Valley Medical Center

“By volunteering you are not only providing vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes and your community, you are also building a healthier you,” she says.

There’s plenty of evidence to back her up. 

The Happiness Effect

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For starters, Christensen points to a study at the London School of Economics, which examined the relationship between volunteering and happiness. 

The study found the more someone gives their time to help others, the happier they are.

The odds of being “very happy” rose 7 percent among those who volunteered monthly; 12 percent for those involved every two to four weeks; and an impressive 16 percent for those on the front lines every week.

“By volunteering you are not only providing vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes and your community, you are also building a healthier you."

The Health Effect

And the effect of volunteering goes deeper than happiness, Christensen adds. Volunteering offers health benefits such as:

  • Decreased depression: By volunteering regularly you develop a solid support system based on a common commitment and shared interests. This support system has been shown to decrease depression.
  • Increased self-confidence: Adding volunteering to your routine provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This boosts self-confidence. You may be naturally outgoing. But if you’re shy and have a hard time meeting new people, volunteering opens doors.
  • Physical/mental activity: Studies show that volunteering can lead to increased brain function, improved health and lower mortality. Regular volunteers typically have an easier time completing everyday tasks, less chronic pain, and decreased heart disease and high blood pressure risk. And thanks to moving and thinking at the same time, improved cognitive skills. 
  • Reduced stress: “Nothing relieves stress better than meaningful connections,” Christensen says. “By spending time in service to others, volunteering provides a sense of meaning and appreciation, which can be calming.”

So, where to volunteer?

Christensen suggests looking for opportunities that mesh with your interests. Perhaps a youth center, a library, a soup kitchen, tutoring at a school or helping at a health care facility

Search online. For instance, United Way of Greater Dayton maintains a listing of organizations that need helpOff Site Icon.

When you volunteer, Christensen adds, “You can choose to go solo – and establish new friendships – or volunteer with friends or family to strengthen your existing relationships.”