This week is Occupational Safety and Health Week here in North America and since many of you come to our blog by way of our Chamber website, we are mostly connected with safety and health via the workplace. Our Live Healthy Brown County newsletter will come out tomorrow, as it usually does, but this week it will include a new feature – volunteer opportunities. You may be thinking that is because I’m always looking for volunteers for lots of things. And, I do that, yes – but we are including it because volunteering is good for your health! I was always told it helping others is good for the soul, but I’m thrilled to find it is more than that.
A few bits of information on this topic:
- Improvement of cardiovascular health. Being a volunteer can lower your blood pressure and improve heart problems. One study, done by the University of Michigan Research Center, showed that volunteers with a history of heart problems had reduced chest pain and lower cholesterol levels compared with non-volunteers.
- Lower risk of death. Another study on older adults who volunteer regularly demonstrated that those who spend time volunteering may enjoy a longer lifespan.
- Better mental functioning. Concerned about preserving your brain power as you age? An increase in cognitive (mental) functioning is yet another potential benefit of volunteering.
- Overall mind and body improvement. Volunteers have been shown to have reduced anxiety and depression and an overall sense of well-being. Volunteers have also been found to recover more quickly from surgery, sleep better, and have healthier immune systems compared to people who do not volunteer.
Volunteering provides many benefits to both mental and physical health.
- Volunteering increases self-confidence. Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence, self-esteem, and life satisfaction. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.
- Volunteering combats depression. Reducing the risk of depression is another important benefit of volunteering. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn protects you against stress and depression when you’re going through challenging times.
- Volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. Volunteering is good for your health at any age, but it’s especially beneficial in older adults. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not, even when considering factors like the health of the participants. Volunteering has also been shown to lessen symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease.
The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research has found a significant connection between volunteering and good health.
The report shows that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. The report is available by clicking here.
“Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger,” said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation. “More than 61 million Americans volunteer to improve conditions for people in need and to unselfishly give of themselves. While the motivation is altruistic, it is gratifying to learn that their efforts are returning considerable health benefits.”
The Health Benefits of Volunteering documents major findings from more than 30 rigorous and longitudinal studies that reviewed the relationship between health and volunteering, with particular emphasis on studies that seek to determine the causal connection between the two factors. The studies, which were controlled for other factors, found that volunteering leads to improved physical and mental health.
Research suggests that volunteering is particularly beneficial to the health of older adults and those serving 100 hours annually. According to the report:
- A study of adults age 65 and older found that the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities.
- Another study found that volunteering led to lower rates of depression in individuals 65 and older.
- A Duke study found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression – two factors that that have been linked to mortality in post-coronary artery disease patients.
- An analysis of longitudinal data found that individuals over 70 who volunteered approximately 100 hours had less of a decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, experienced lower levels of depression, and had more longevity.
- Two studies found that volunteering threshold is about 100 hours per year, or about two hours a week. Individuals who reached the threshold enjoyed significant health benefits, although there were not additional benefits beyond the 100-hour mark.
“This is good news for people who volunteer,” said Robert Grimm, Director of the Corporation’s Office of Research and Policy Development and Senior Counselor to the CEO. “This research is particularly relevant to Baby Boomers, who are receiving as well as giving when they help others. Just two hours of volunteering a week can bring meaningful benefits to a person’s body and mind.”
Volunteering in America: 2007 State Trends and Rankings in Civic Life, a report that includes numerous measures on volunteering and civic engagement. The Health Benefits of Volunteering report builds on that by showing states with higher volunteer rates also have better health and that there is a significant statistical relationship between states with higher volunteer rates and lower incidents of mortality and heart disease.
“There is now a convergence of research leading to the conclusion that helping others makes people happier and healthier. So the word is out – it’s good to be good. Science increasingly says so,” said Dr. Stephen Post, a professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and co-author of the forthcoming book “Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research That Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life.”
This follow-up report issued today brings more evidence that volunteering produces significant health benefits. Those who gave social support to others had lower rates of mortality than those who did not – even when controlling for socioeconomic status, education, marital status, age, gender, and ethnicity, the report stated.
So, look for the column tomorrow to find ways to volunteer and we will give you links for even more ways to volunteer. In fact, here is the link to the Volunteer Center of Brown County’s community database to search for more!