Why volunteer? Because it’s good for your health
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
If you've ever volunteered your time to a charity or other worthy cause, you know you feel good about it at the end of the day. That effort also boosts your health, according to researchers.
That's just the start; the benefits of that generosity reach a long way, even to your employers' bottom line.
What can be considered volunteering? In a report undertaken by Huiting Wu and published by the Points of Light Institute in 2011, volunteering is defined in part as "rendering of service by choice of or free will for the benefit of the wider community by an individual, group, or institution without necessarily expecting monetary gain." That description covers a range of tasks from raking leaves for a neighbor or offering accounting services at a senior center to helping construct buildings in a remote Third World nation.
We all know movement — even in small doses — improves overall health and can help reduce the likelihood of some ailments and diseases. That holds true from preschoolers to the elderly. So any volunteer efforts that require physical activity — for example, packing summer meals for students on the free and reduced lunch program — by their nature would be beneficial healthwise.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health recently examined the relationship between volunteering and healthcare, studying a group of Americans older than 50. They found that volunteering resulted in participants spending 38 percent less time in hospitals and receiving more preventative health screenings.
That study, undertaken by research fellow Eric Kim, was centered on the link between healthcare and volunteering, not overall health and volunteering. The study's conclusion stated, "If future studies replicate these ﬁndings, the results may be used to inform the development of new strategies for increasing preventive health screenings, lowering healthcare use and costs, and enhancing the health of older adults."
Wu, in the Points of Light report, states that volunteers had lower mortality rates than nonvolunteers. That report also points to volunteerism providing a sense of purpose, benefiting mental health. Other studies have shown weight loss in high schoolers who participated in an after-school program for children, and improvements in stamina and flexibility among adult tutors.
"I've been looking at this for years now, and I haven't found a study where volunteering didn't affect health positively in some way," Kim’s collaborator, Sara Konrath, told The Atlantic. Konrath knows of what she speaks; she's the director of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
The health benefits can mean cost savings for the employers of those healthy volunteers. As companies emphasize preventative care, volunteering plays into that. And healthier employees means lower overall healthcare costs for businesses as well as a decline in lost productivity due to health issues.
There are ancillary gains as well. Volunteering can foster creativity and innovation, and provides workers who volunteer with "soft skills" that employers value, such as empathy and conflict resolution, according to Fortune.
It seem giving a little bit of your time to others may help you gain a little more time on the Earth in the end.
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