Do Unto Others, And Live Longer
Over the past several years, there have been many studies that find that volunteering of your time or money can be beneficial to your health. Not only are people who volunteer likely to be happier and more satisfied with life, but they may also be extending their lives as well.
Researchers with the University of Exeter Medical School conducted an analysis of 40 studies and found that people who volunteer had a 22% lower mortality rate than those who did not. The volunteers were not only less likely to die prematurely, but were also less likely to be depressed and expressed greater well-being and satisfaction with life.
One physical benefit that likely lead to longer life is lowered blood pressure. Dr. Suzanne Richards found that older adult adults who volunteered at least 200 hours a year were 40% less likely to develop hypertension. She also concluded from the analysis that older adults experience improved physical activity and cognitive function when they spend time helping others.
Mental health benefits of volunteering include a personal sense of accomplishment, a sense of control over life, and higher self esteem.
The Corporation for National and Community Service offer the following tips on becoming a volunteer:
1. Research the causes or issues that are important to you. Look for a group that deals with issues about which you feel strongly.
2. Consider what you have to offer. If you enjoy outdoor work, or have a knack for teaching, you may want to look for a volunteer opportunity in which your special skills can be utilized. Similarly, you may want to think about your specific personality and how your organization skills or communication style might fit with different organizations or activities.
3. Think outside the box! Many community groups that are looking for volunteers, like neighborhood watch programs, prisons, disaster relief organizations, youth organizations, intergenerational programs, and park services may not have occurred to you but could just be the perfect fit.
4. There’s no need to wait to be asked. There are many ways to find organizations that are looking for volunteers. Ask your friends or colleagues about their own volunteering activities. The Internet has great online volunteer referral services, including www.volunteer.gov. Or try visiting your local volunteer center. These services can help you to find the right volunteer opportunity for you.
5. When you find an organization that is in line with your interests, request an interview and plan for it in much the same way that you would plan for a job interview. Be ready to describe your interests, qualifications, and background, and also be prepared to ask your interviewers about their organization and the benefits they offer to their volunteers. An interview will allow you and the organization to find the right match for your skills and interests.
6. Would you like to learn something new? Consider whether the organization offers training or professional development opportunities for their volunteers. Volunteering can provide you with the chance to learn about something you’re interested in and develop skills in a new area.
7. Find the volunteer activity that fits your schedule. Organizations need different levels of commitment for different types of volunteer activities. Serving as a mentor, for example, will require a regular, intensive commitment, while volunteering for a walk-a-thon is a seasonal commitment.
8. Volunteer with friends or as a family. Think about looking for a volunteer opportunity that would be suitable for parents and children to do together, or for husband and wife or a group of friends to take on as a team. Volunteering with others can be a great way to get to know people better and can help keep you excited about volunteering.
9. Virtual Volunteering- yes, there is such a thing. If you have computer access and the necessary skills, some organizations now offer the opportunity to do volunteer work over the computer. This can be a great way to get started in volunteering, and can also provide a way to volunteer at home on a flexible schedule.
10. Don’t give up! If you find that your volunteering experience is not all that you expected, talk to your volunteer supervisor or coordinator about it. Think of what could make it better and check with them to see if your ideas are possibilities.
Richards S, Lang I, Taylor R, et al. Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC Public Health. 2013.
Corporation for National and Community Service