From the editor: Sometimes providing paid time off and company-sponsored events just isn’t enough to get your employees to volunteer – and so it’s important to find other ways to motivate and inspire them. The post below presents concrete proof that volunteering is good for one’s health. Share it with your colleagues at work and urge them to join in the health craze by signing up to volunteer.
Guest post by Candace Bergam
Let’s face it: There are probably a lot of things in life that we plan on doing, but put off even though most of those things offer some benefit to our health, our life or to others. Volunteering is a perfect example of one of those things.
It is difficult to find the time to volunteer when you have a full schedule of work, family, school, holiday deals and the season finale of your favorite show. But, if you have ever taken the time to volunteer, you know that you felt great after you finished. You might have even felt similar to the way you feel after you have completed a workout. Studies show that volunteering does, in fact, offer health benefits to participants.
Research shows that volunteering during adolescence and early adulthood is not only important to the community, but also to health, personal growth and identity formation while transitioning into adulthood.
Personal and psychological benefits of volunteering amongst youth include learning to belong and interact with peers, as well as realizing that there is much more to life than individual gain. Volunteering also helps youth to form social networks as well as build social capital that will help connect them to future educational and occupational opportunities.
According to a recent report, the Corporation for National and Community Service states that older Americans who volunteer one to two hours a week receive significant health benefits. The report suggests that by volunteering, individuals raise their life expectancy rates, are less likely to suffer from depression, and recover from major illness more quickly.
Researchers suggest that because volunteer work performed by elderly individuals is not obligatory, they gain a greater sense of purpose. Studies also show that volunteering helps to create and strengthen social ties which can be helpful during the emotional challenges that people often face later in life.
The American Geriatrics Society reports that adults older than 65 who volunteer have half the mortality rate than their peers that do not volunteer. The study suggests that individuals who volunteer have a greater belief in their ability to complete tasks and may be more likely to make healthy life choices that may prolong their life.
Michelle Eslami, MD, a UCLA Health System geriatrician, proposes that another reason for a longer lifespan may be the mental stimulation that individuals experience when they are involved with others. Also, according to research, learning new activities stimulates the brain in the same manner that physical exercise does the body and brain.
A report published in Social Work Research views volunteering as an empowerment process in which active participants in the community enjoy the benefit of improved well-being and health. The report suggests that older African American adults may have more to gain from volunteering because they display greater health and psychosocial benefits from volunteering. Volunteering provides a path to reduce the sense of isolation and helplessness, strengthen self-esteem and personal control, and to mitigate loss of power in various aspects of life.
Finally, a survey conducted by UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch demonstrates that there are perceived health benefits amongst volunteers. More than 68 percent of volunteers report that volunteering made them feel physically healthier while 73 percent feel that volunteering lowered their stress levels. Volunteers also reported a greater sense of well-being, with 92 percent of volunteers agreeing that the activity gave them a greater sense of purpose in life.
Research supports the idea that volunteering offers a wide range of health benefits including lower stress levels, a greater sense of well-being and an avenue for gaining social capital. Next time you feel that life has become hectic or are feeling down, spare an hour or two for a local organization. It will help to boost your mood, allow you to meet and interact with new people, and empower you while benefitting your community.
Candace Bergam is a 25 year old college student residing in Portland, Oregon. She recently started volunteering with the Oregon Food Bank and has enjoyed the benefits of civic engagement. Through her volunteer work she’s come to understand the importance of being an active member in her community.