Volunteer Your Way to Better Health
Giving up your time to help others has a range of unexpected benefits.
More than 21 million people in the UK volunteer at least once a year, throwing their time and energy into helping others.
Moreover, while these dedicated volunteers help the isolated and sick, drive community groups and transform wild spaces, there is growing evidence that their own health is benefiting too.
“People who volunteer are happier and healthier than their counterparts who don’t”, says Catherine Johnson CBE, chief executive of the Royal Voluntary Service, whose research shows volunteering improves wellbeing and reduces depression. “We recently surveyed 2,000 of our volunteers, and 73% said volunteering had made them feel healthier physically and emotionally!
Reduces Stress – A survey of 600 community service volunteers found that almost two thirds said volunteering reduced stress levels, boosting the immune system and helping to combat disease. Work-related stress affect around five million adults in the UK.
Beats Depression – The CSV survey found that almost half of those who had volunteered for over two years said it made them feel less depressed. Volunteers reported a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives – they also took less time off work. So volunteering could help the 12 million in the UK with mental health problems, including stress and depression. Volunteers over 40 are most likely to benefit, found one UK study. And US studies found the benefits persist into old age, especially among those who had no partner or job; retirement can increase the risk of depression, but volunteering reversed that.
Lowers Blood Pressure – A study published in Psychology and Aging found that over 50s who volunteer regularly are less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. High blood pressure contributes to heart disease, stroke and premature death, and the study found that that just 200 hours of volunteering per year contributed to lower blood pressure. Other studies have shown lower blood pressure after even fewer hours of volunteering.
Increases Brain Function – Older adults who tutor children or volunteer in other ways can delay or even reverse declining brain functions, a Johns Hopkins University study found. Magnetic resonance imaging brain scans showed improvements in volunteers’ cognitive functioning, maintaining brain function in later life for people over 65 who volunteered for a youth mentoring programme.
Increases Fitness and Stamina- Successive studies have shown that volunteering increases fitness and may result in weight loss too. A Johns Hopkins University study found that older adults who volunteered in schools burned twice as many calories while volunteering and they also gained muscle strength. Volunteers’ weight and cholesterol levels also reduced, improving heart health. Another study found volunteers over the age of 50 spent 38% less time in hospital.
Source: Carol Davis / Benenden Health