“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart” – Elizabeth Adrew
And now it’s officially proven that they have the healthier heart!
Two independent university research studies on the health benefits of volunteering – one on adolescents and one on senior citizens – shows that volunteering your time (as little as 2 hours a week) keeps you healthy.
Health benefits of Volunteering – Study on adolescents
In the study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers at the University of British Columbia study the health effects of volunteering on adolescents.
The study involved 106 10th grade students who were free from any chronic illness. The students were divided into two equal groups. One group (intervention group) volunteered an hour per week with younger elementary school children for 2 months in fall. The other group (control group) was wait-listed for volunteer activities in spring.
The researchers measured cholesterol levels, body mass index and other cardiovascular risk markers. After just ten weeks of volunteering, the children in intervention group showed significantly lower levels of each risk factor, compared to those in the control group.
“The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behavior and mental health were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health,” says lead researcher Hannah Schreier
Health benefits of Volunteering – Study on elderly
In a similar study, Dr. Benjamin Gottlieb from Guelph University, studies the health effects of volunteering in people 55 years and older.
The research monitors the health of older people who volunteer each week. Over the course of two years, their function, blood glucose levels, body mass, heart rate and other physical outcomes were studied.
Across the board, those who volunteered were healthier than the norms for their age group. While psychological benefits come from meeting new people and engaging in new activities; certain volunteering roles like helping in soup kitchens, delivering meals etc also provide physical exercise. The study found that the people who volunteer live longer.
“Older adults who are actively involved in volunteering have better mental health, they have less depression than their counterparts who are not volunteering, they feel more satisfied with their life overall,” says Gottlieb
Similar findings are resonated in a number of other researches focusing on the relationship between volunteering and health. If you are interested in reading more research papers on the topic here is a systematic literature review by researchers at University of Wales. The review compiles about 87 research papers on the health benefits of volunteering.
So next time to reach for that vitamin, think volunteering! As Professor Benjamin says,