When you think about volunteering, the first thing that probably comes to mind is how volunteers help make a difference for the community, whether that means collecting food for a food bank, helping young learners master reading and math, providing companionship for older neighbors, or cleaning up a local waterway.
What you might not realize is that it also benefits the people who do the volunteer work. A recent university study found that people over 50 who were regular volunteers were less likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure, which lowers the risk of other health problems including heart disease and stroke.
Another study found both physical and mental health benefits to volunteering. The people who participated in the study who were volunteers reported better physical health and a higher level of life satisfaction than people who did not volunteer. Researchers have also found that being a volunteer may also help you live longer.
The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Being a Volunteer
Being a volunteer offers a wide range of health benefits, including:
1. Reducing Stress
Doing good for others increases the release of dopamine in the brain, which helps both decrease feelings of stress and increase positive, relaxed feelings. And managing stress also helps decrease your risk of stress-related health problems such as heart disease, depression and anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, a weakened immune system, and sleep problems.
2. Helping You Stay Fit
Volunteering can help you be more physically fit. One study found that people who volunteer were 1.8 times more likely to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for physical activity. If you want the fitness benefits of volunteering, look for projects that include more physical activity, whether that’s walks or runs to raise money for a cause, helping clean up a neighborhood park or build a playground, or helping build and rehab homes with a non-profit like Habitat for Humanity.
3. Enhancing Overall Wellbeing
Volunteering can increase your self-esteem and sense of purpose because you’re looking beyond your own needs and wants and focusing on the wellbeing of others. It’s also a great way to stay socially connected and make new friends, both of which have a positive effect on your psychological and cognitive health. One study discovered that of the people surveyed who volunteer 88% noted improved self-esteem, 93% noted an improvement in their mood, 75% felt physically healthier, and 34% could manage their chronic illnesses better.
How to Find Volunteer Opportunities in Your Community and Beyond
There is a wealth of volunteer opportunities in every community. The key is to know where to look to find the ones you’re interested in. Check with local faith communities, non-profits, rec centers, cultural organizations, and schools.
Websites are another good resource for finding local, national, and international volunteer opportunities.
Try these sites to get started: