by Jessica Sanders 

Social relationships are as important in predicting good health as blood pressure, obesity and physical activity, according to a study by House, Landis & Umberson in 1988.

Since this groundbreaking study in the late 80s, there’s been a significant amount of research done to determine the health benefits of volunteering, which also provides social benefits. Most find that the advantages are huge, but not just for the people you’re helping.

“The results of a survey of a large, ethnically diverse sample of older adults showed no association between receiving social support and improved health; however, the study did find that 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,” according to the Corporation for National and Community Service.

volunteering health benefits

It doesn’t take a lifetime of volunteering and giving to feel these effects. Just two hours a week is all it takes for your body to reap the benefits. But don’t just pick up and start helping with any cause you can find. If you’re helping out of obligation, your stress doesn’t melt away, but rather it becomes more prominent.

So, find a cause you care about and lend a helping hand. Here are a few important ways it can help improve your health.

Volunteering Lengthens Life

A study in Detroit asked 423 married couples over the age of 65 if they’d helped anyone in the past year. The term help included things like housework, running errands and providing childcare. The respondents who did were half as likely to die in the next five years than those who didn’t.

These are some of the most popularly discussed benefits because most studies about the healthy effects of volunteering focus on the older generations. Some speculate that this is because older people, ages 65 and up, are more prone to illness and depression, while some believe that the effects are greater in older generations because younger ones are often obligated to volunteer, as opposed to choosing it willingly. It’s important to remember, however, that there are many advantages to volunteering, whether you’re retired or in high school.

Giving Reduces Stress

Oxytocin is an important factor in this scenario. When you help someone, you automatically overcome a fear of reaching out to someone you don’t know. When you overcome that fear, your body releases the hormone oxytocin. Known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin is known for its ability to drive a sense of reward, happiness and well-being.

In fact, a UnitedHealthcare poll found that 73% of people polled said the health benefit of volunteering was reduced stress.

Volunteering Protects Your Ticker

Not only does volunteering increase your levels of oxytocin, but in turn it lowers your levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well. People with chronically high levels of cortisol are more likely to suffer from a variety of heart problems including heart attacks and high blood pressure.

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University discovered this association. In the study, which included 1,164 adults, ages 51 to 91 with normal blood pressure levels, the researches questioned participants about their volunteerism in 2006. In 2010, they again questioned the participants and found that everyone who volunteered 200 hours a year, which equates to 8 days, had a 40% lower risk of high blood pressure than those who didn’t volunteer, at all.

Of their study, the researches said, “Our findings suggest that volunteerism may be an effective, non-pharmacological intervention for reducing hypertension risk.”

Volunteering Combats Depression

 A study done at Cornell University found that nearly 7,000 adults, who volunteered to help with environmental projects, were half as likely to report symptoms of depression 20 years after retiring than those who didn’t help at all. Contributing studies found that lowered depression rates are linked to stronger emotional health, which leads to long-term benefits, rather than short term.

Though a number of studies have found these findings to be true, the positive benefits are less effective on severely depressed individuals than those who are not currently depressed, or only mildly depressed at the time of volunteering.

Start Volunteering Today

The value of volunteering is clear, so it’s time for you to start lending a helping hand. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few options.

  • Local volunteering: Whether you clean up a park or read to older folks in a nursing home, the benefits are the same. Find a local group, and express your interest. More often than not you’ll have no problem scheduling in your volunteer time.
  • Volunteer vacation: Take your volunteering efforts outside the local community and go on a volunteer vacation. These vacations range from cleaning a polluted hiking trail to rescuing sea turtles in Costa Rica. has some great ideas to get you thinking.

JB_RFKThe health benefits of volunteering are very clear and very real. From living a longer life to reducing blood pressure, everyone young and old has something to benefit from spending a few hours helping someone else. Choose to help a cause you love and you’ll surely reap the benefits both mentally and physically.

Just this summer, Joe Barton and his wife led a camp for foster children. These needy kids were treated like royalty for a week, but the lives of the volunteers were changed forever! Where do you volunteer?

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