By: NobleHour Special Contributor Latasha Doyle
It’s a well known fact that you gain something when you volunteer, and it’s probably much larger than what you give. Even when the act is entirely altruistic, or without motive, you just feel so much better. Volunteers report having less stress, longer periods of sustained happiness, more of a drive in personal and professional sectors, and a larger sense of community when they volunteer in virtually any capacity. While most people attribute volunteering to an improved mood and a purposeful life, studies are actually beginning to find that it affects your physical health, rather than just your outlook.
It’s Cheaper Than Therapy
It’s hard to believe that helping others can actually help you overcome obstacles in your own life. Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and a number of mental illnesses can all be impacted positively by volunteering time to others. Studies have actually found that people with severe emotional responses, such as depression, OCD, PTSD, and even anger management difficulties can benefit from volunteering. Because of this, prisoners with a variety of backgrounds and mental illness diagnoses have been recruited to volunteer to foster animals, or become therapy dog trainers. Program coordinators reported great success in lowered emotional responses in both the prisoners and the dogs. Veterans who volunteer also report lower instances of PTSD-related flashbacks and panic attacks, especially when working with animals.
Volunteering and community outreach have been used in a number of clinics and programs to “treat” eating disorders, depression, and suicidal tendencies in teens and young adults as well. In general, it appears that giving patients a purpose can help them function, even with a debilitating mental disorder. It has also been found that volunteering is a cycle of mental well-being; the service gives you confidence and a personal boost, which you can then use to help you in other areas of your life. Giving people the tools to help others actually provides the tools to help themselves.
Better Than a Gym Membership
Research continues to indicate that volunteering can actually make a person healthier, no matter how they volunteer. Statistics from the Corporation for National and Community Service find that people who volunteer frequently tend to live longer, and have fewer physical complications (mobility, disease, loss of hearing/sight/etc.). Research also finds that people who volunteer a large amount of their time - over 100 hours per year - are some of the healthiest people in the U.S. The same studies indicate that “elderly” volunteers experience the greatest physical benefit from their activities, most likely because they are active, engaged, and happy to be of service. Other reports indicate that older people feel years younger, chronically ill people experience less symptoms and pain, and preliminary research is finding that volunteers are drastically less likely to suffer from heart disease.
There is much to be said about the physical side of volunteering in general. Whether you’re volunteering in a hospital, food bank, animal shelter, school, or anywhere in between, you are actively engaged. Even if the work isn’t particularly labor-intensive, your body is still engaged. Most of the research indicates that volunteering simply keeps people active, rather than remaining sedentary at home. Many people also choose programs or volunteering positions that are related to their interests, which keeps people involved and excited enough to share their interest with others. This translates well in areas like youth sports, afterschool programs, animal shelters, hospitals, national parks, and more.
The Cycle of Health
Volunteering and physical health are sort of a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” according to the Corporation for National and State Volunteering. States with the highest rates of volunteers are also found to be the healthiest in the country, and all findings indicate that the health of a state rises as more effort is made to promote volunteerism. Many researchers and social experts believe that, moving forward, the best way to promote good health is to also promote volunteerism and community awareness. The more you volunteer, the healthier you are, and the healthier you are, the more you volunteer. It’s an unexpected connection, but one that makes a very important point: We are all healthier when we help each other.
Are you ready to improve your health while helping others? Find meaningful service opportunities today with your free NobleHour account!
Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she's not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.