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4 surprising health benefits of volunteering

nib foundation

2 minute read

UPDATE December 2017: Christmas is a time for giving and anyone who’s ever put their hand up to work at a charity, coach their local soccer team or lifeguard at their local beach knows that there’s something gratifying about volunteering. But, did you know that there are some serious health benefits to spending your time helping others?

We’ve trawled through research papers and studies to find four surprising health benefits of volunteering – so what are you waiting for? This yuletide, make time for others.

1. Lower blood pressure

A study from Carnegie Mellon University found that adults over 50 who volunteered regularly were less likely to have problems with high blood pressure than non-volunteers.

So, how can volunteering lower blood pressure?

One of the study’s lead authors, Rodlescia Sneed concludes that volunteering might increase the physical activity in people who’d otherwise be inactive.

And it’s not just about increasing your activity, volunteering can also reduce stress explains Rodlescia, “Many people find volunteer work to be helpful with respect to stress reduction, and we know that stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes.”

2. Longer life

A longer life could be another great benefit of volunteering. A study from the University of Michigan looked into the mortality rates of altruistic volunteers and found that those who volunteered regularly had a lower mortality rate than non-volunteers or those who volunteered for self-interested reasons.

3. Better sleep

Dr Stephen Post from Stony Brook University School of Medicine found that in a survey of more than 4,500 Americans, volunteering had an impact on sleep.

'68 percent of volunteers agree that volunteering “has made me feel physically healthier”; and 96 percent say volunteering ”makes people happier”. In addition, the survey results indicated that volunteers have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety, and better friendships and social networks,’ explains Stephen.

Volunteers have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety, and better friendships and social networks.

4. You’ll get a high

Called a ‘helpers high’, studies have shown that those who volunteer have a similar physical experience to people who exercise vigorously or meditate. This is because your body releases endorphins during positive social contact with others. The only catch? To get the benefits of the helper’s high, your volunteering needs to involve direct contact with other people and must be altruistic - without a selfish motivator, like money, involved.

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