Volunteers Who Give Back to the Community Also Give Back to Their Health

woman volunteer shaking hands with dog in shelter

Volunteering makes a world of difference in the lives of others and the community. However, by giving back to the community, we are also giving back to our health and our well-being. Recent studies provide evidence that volunteering offers many health benefits, for younger and older individuals alike.

Physical and Emotional Benefits of Giving Back in Young Adults

In a recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics, 106 10th graders were asked to volunteer 10 weeks of their time to work with elementary school students. The study also examined another group of 10th graders who did not volunteer. These students served as a control group. At the end of the 10 weeks, the students who volunteered had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who did not. In fact, the student volunteers not only had lower body mass indexes and cholesterol levels but also developed better moods, empathy, and prosocial behaviors.

There is also evidence suggesting that individuals who begin volunteering at an earlier age will develop skills and mindsets that can have lasting positive effects throughout their lives. These include higher levels of positive emotions and more control over their emotions, lower levels of risk behaviors such as drug use and theft, increased civic engagement and moral reasoning, improvements in leadership skills, and a greater chance of volunteering in adulthood.

Older Adults Benefit Too

Older adults also reap the benefits from volunteering. The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University found that older adults who worked with children or took part in a volunteer service were able to delay or even reverse declines in brain functioning. Using magnetic resonance imaging, researchers found that older adults who volunteered in a youth mentoring program had heightened activity in cognitive areas in the brain that are important to planning and organizing one’s daily life.

“We found that participating in Experience Corps resulted in improvements in cognitive functioning and this was associated with significant changes in brain activation patterns,” says lead investigator Michelle Carlson, Associate Professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health and Center on Aging and Health. “Essentially, the intervention improved brain and cognitive function in these older adults.”

Let’s Be Real: Volunteering Does Not Discriminate

While it is seen that volunteering is the most beneficial for younger and older individuals, middle-aged adults can reap the benefits of volunteering too. General benefits of committing volunteer work include decreased risk of depression (especially later in life), a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and reduced levels of stress and mental illness. But if the health benefits of volunteering aren’t appealing enough, volunteers are more successful in the job market. Regular volunteers are 27% more likely of gaining employment, and 60% of hiring managers see the act of volunteerism as a valuable asset.

mom and son volunteering in food kitchen

How to Start Your Volunteer Service

While the health benefits should be enough to entice individuals to volunteer, many individuals still choose not to. Many do not know where to start, feel that the work is not worth their time, or believe that volunteering is boring. If you are unsure of where to start, consider looking for an organization that offers these elements:

  • Social engagement: You are going to enjoy volunteering more when you are working alongside friends or like-minded people.
  • Meaningful service: Choose an organization with a volunteering goal that agrees with and satisfies your views and beliefs.
  • A worthwhile outcome: Many individuals shy away from volunteering because they don’t see an immediate outcome.
  • Volunteer under a service that you enjoy: Volunteer through an organization that offers service activities that meet your interests.

The act of volunteering promotes better life satisfaction and positive mental health. There is good reason why many schools and universities require students to take part in the generous act. With so many groups and organizations providing a plethora of volunteering opportunities and activities, there are opportunities for every individual. Gather a group of friends and volunteer for an organization that provides a meaningful and exhilarating experience. Your heart and community will thank you for it!

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Josh Miles is a St. Petersburg/Tampa based writer who studied Business Management and Marketing at the University of South Florida. He believes that time spent with good friends and a connection with nature are keys to a healthy and happy life. In his free time, you will find him exercising, listening to music, or playing video games with friends.

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