At some point in our lives, we’ve all lent a helping hand to someone else. Whether it’s donating or raising money for our favorite charity, visiting the elderly at a nursing home, walking dogs at an animal shelter or simply doing a good deed for a neighbor, volunteering has proven that it benefits people of all ages through increasing feelings of self-esteem, respect and physical and mental well-being. In other words, doing good does you good.
Rodlescia Sneed, public health research associate at Michigan State University, studies the impacts of volunteering.
“Research has shown that there’s evidence volunteer work promotes that psychological well being you’re talking about. In my own work I’ve shown it’s linked to improvements in factors like depressive symptoms, purpose in life, and feelings of optimism,” says Sneed.
Volunteering also promotes physical activity.
For Sean St. John, Toronto National Bank executive, volunteering is an opportunity to channel his passion for sports, and at the same time, give back. Over the years, he and his colleagues have participated in a number of charity hockey events to support local and national organizations in Canada.
“Charity work and community participation is a large part of our work culture. It’s also fun and provides excellent comradery with your peers,” explains Sean St. John.
In the workplace, volunteering can be a way to gain new skills and work experience that may aid in the advancement of your career. It allows you to share your skills to help fundraising programs for your community, and it gives you confidence by leading others.
Generally speaking, volunteer opportunities have a low-pressure environment. This means that you can have genuine, engaging conversations with people who share your interests without expectations. Chances are, you’ll make more purposeful relationships volunteering than you would ever have at a networking event.
Evidence of volunteerism’s physical effects can be found in a study from the American Psychological Association. Adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. High blood pressure is an important indicator of health because it contributes to heart disease, stroke, and premature death.
Adding to the list of physical health benefits, volunteering for the right reasons on a regular basis can actually help you live longer, reducing early mortality rates by 22%, according to one review.
83-year-old Betty Meisler can attest to the physical benefits of giving back. The longtime director of the Foster Grandparents program and an advocate for volunteerism believes, “Volunteering increases your life by seven and a half years,” quoting a Cornell University study.
Meisler has this advice for anyone thinking about volunteering: “Prior to retirement, people should think about where their services may be needed in the community. Based on their interests, they can explore what volunteer opportunities are available through a Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). Giving back to one’s community is a very rewarding experience.”
Once you start volunteering, you’ll realize that the scientific evidence supports the positive outlook you have after leaving the homeless shelter or children’s hospital. Whatever drives you to begin your journey, you’ll be surprised about the impact that volunteering has on your physical and mental health.