Volunteering for Better Health
Many, many years ago, when I first started college, I was planning on being a physicist (I didn’t even know what a social worker was, let alone what they did). However, a good friend of mine begged me to volunteer my time to help teach developmentally disabled (back then, this group of folks were called mentally retarded) how to swim and also how to play basketball . . . my response, “Why not?”
So, in I plunged, with the result being a total about face in my future vocational plans. Little did I know at the time that volunteering would not only change my life’s job outlooks, but would also improve my health. And that’s the topic for today’s Weekly Message – Volunteering to Improve Your Health.
The Corporation for National and Community Service completed a study back in 2007 that pulled together the results of numerous other studies focusing on the health benefits to volunteering your time, especially if you are 65 years of age or older. Their project, The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, “found a significant connection between volunteering and good health.”
David Eisner, CEO of The Corporation for National and Community Service, said, “Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger.” By this Mr. Eisner simply meant that by giving your time to help others, you not only offer an altruistic solution to a stated need, but your heart benefits both physiologically and psychologically.
The report suggests what volunteering can do:
- A study of adults 65 and older found that the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities.
- Another study found that volunteering led to lower rates of depression in individuals 65 and older.
- A Duke study found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression – two factors that have been linked to mortality in post-coronary artery disease patients.
- An analysis of longitudinal data found that individuals over 70 who volunteered approximately 100 hours per year had less of a decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, experienced lower levels of depression, and had more longevity.
- Two studies found that volunteering threshold is about 100 hours per year, or about two hours per week. Individuals who reached the threshold enjoyed significant health benefits, although there were not additional benefits beyond the 100-hour mark.
Volunteering not only can make you happier and healthier, it offers several other benefits that can easily be overlooked:
- Volunteering can help you make new friends.
- Volunteering can improve your social skills.
- Volunteering can increase your self-esteem.
- Volunteering can offer career experience.
- Volunteering can teach you useful job skills.
- Volunteering can bring you fun and fulfillment.
The key to successful volunteering is finding the right spot for you. Will you enjoy volunteering at this place and will you be capable of handling that responsibility?
Below are some questions to ask yourself as you begin your search for that “right fit:”
- Would you like to work with people or would you rather work in solitude?
- Are you better behind the scenes or do you prefer to take a more visible role?
- How much time are you willing to commit?
- How much responsibility are you willing to take on?
- What skills can you bring to a volunteer job?
- What causes are important to you?
It has occurred to me that part of our role on this planet is to help others, at whatever level we can and for as long as we can. Some of us do it for a living, some over time through their religious affiliations; while others may offer services to others through recreational projects. The possibilities are nearly limitless, yet our time on earth is not.
Don’t just sit around wondering about giving back to others, get up and do it – It feels great to help others while asking for nothing back in return. You will be rewarded . . .