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Why Volunteering Is So Good For Your Health

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It's one of the first lessons we learn as children -- "sharing means caring." We might not understand why we have to share at first, especially when there are younger siblings involved, but as we grow into adulthood, sharing becomes an essential part of your social and career success.

So does it come as a surprise to learn that research now proves that sharing your time with others for a good cause can improve your overall happiness and mental well-being? It turns out that Baby Boomers give more total dollars to charities than any other generation. According to Forbes, Boomers are responsible for 34 percent of all charitable donations, which amounts to nearly $61.9 billion every year.

And according to the data collected by Volunteering In America, Boomers spent about 3.6 million hours volunteering for organizations or causes they are passionate about.

These generous Boomers seem to have tapped into volunteerism at an opportune time; two new studies have recently confirmed that there are significant health benefits to giving back.

UnitedHealth Group commissioned a national survey of 3,351 adults and found that the overwhelming majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience.

  • 76 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering has made them feel healthier
  • 94 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering improved their mood
  • 78 percent of them said that volunteering lowered their stress levels
  • 96 percent reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life
  • 80 percent of them feel like they have control over their health
  • About a quarter of them reported that their volunteer work has helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them active and taking their minds off of their own problems
  • Volunteers have better personal scores than non-volunteers on nine well-established measures of emotional wellbeing including personal independence, capacity for rich interpersonal relationships and overall satisfaction with life.
  • Volunteering also improved their mood and self-esteem

For those of us who have spent time giving back to the community or helping further a cause we believe in, you might recognize many of the above findings to be correct. It doesn't seem far-fetched to think that helping others can provide you with a sense of connection, pride, and perspective. But did you know that it can also help you live longer?

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the south of England analyzed data from 40 published studies and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than their peers who do not volunteer. The study also found that volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.

Dr. Suzanne Richards, who lead the team of researchers at Exeter, said that more testing on this subject is necessary in order to find out whether or not biological, cultural, and social factors are associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place, as they are often associated with better health.

"The challenge now is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take up volunteering, and then to measure whether improvements arise for them," she said.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

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