Can Volunteering Benefit Health?
Volunteering to help your favorite cause is a noble way to spend your time. In addition to giving back to a community, research shows that, by volunteering, you may actually be helping yourself. There are various mental and physical benefits from altruistically helping others.
Keeping physically and mentally active can improve your overall health, and volunteering is one way to increase your activity in both areas.
Mental Health Benefits
By volunteering, you can combat mental health issues like stress and depression. Nearly half of regular volunteers say that volunteering gives them a boost in mood. Research hasn’t found a significant difference in the types of volunteering, meaning any helpful act can help you reap the benefits.
While it is still an emerging field of study, it is thought that the reason for improved mental health is a spike in oxytocin when you volunteer. Oxytocin is one neurotransmitter your brain releases that can improve your mood. It is known to regulate social interaction and help people better manage stressful situations.
Another possibility, suggested by Rodlescia Sneed, public health research associate at Michigan State University, is that volunteering can help put your own problems into perspective. What you’re going through doesn’t seem as bad when you’re helping those who are struggling more. Volunteering also allows you to take the focus off yourself and the stresses of daily life.
Physical Health Benefits
A study published in Psychology and Aging found that volunteering regularly could lower the risk of hypertension in older adults. Adults who volunteered for at least 200 hours in months prior to the study were less likely to develop hypertension than non-volunteers.
Stress is known to take a toll on your body, so the fact that volunteering can reduce stress means it can help your overall physical health. Additionally, it is speculated that if your volunteer habits promote physical activity, you will reap even more physical health benefits.
All of that said, while the way you volunteer doesn’t make a difference in health benefits, why you volunteer might. A 2012 study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that only those who volunteered altruistically had a lower mortality risk. This means you should set out to genuinely help others instead of trying to make yourself feel better. The latter just comes naturally when you’re doing your best to better the world around you.