Volunteering boosts mental health and helps you live longer

Doing good for others is also doing good for yourself. (istockphoto.com/chrisbrignell)

Volunteering has more of a feelgood factor than initially believed: people who volunteer report lower levels of depression and higher levels of life satisfaction. They’re even more likely to live longer, too. That was a key finding in a study carried out at the University of Exeter.

The review found a “20% reduction in mortality rates” among those who volunteer compared with those who don’t. Anecdotally, volunteers have said they feel benefits to their self-esteem and wellbeing by offering a helping hand. The study backs this up with scientific evidence. However, it also warns that too much volunteering can have the opposite effect, and people can begin to feel burdened.

Dr Suzanne Richards, who led the study, said: “Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health, but more work is needed to establish whether volunteering is actually the cause. It is still unclear whether biological and cultural factors and social resources that are often associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place.”

Volunteering rates are 22.5% in Europe, 27% in the US and 36% in Australia.

Why offering a helping hand is good for your health

anima helping hand

Volunteering can boost your physical and mental health. (pic: istockphoto.com/JamaicaPlain)

They say that self-esteem comes from doing esteemable things. And now scientists have proven that doing something ‘esteemable’ – like volunteering for charity – is good for your heart as well as your soul.

In a study, a group of students who volunteered for an hour a week over 10 weeks helping younger children with craft activities and homework were found to have improvements in their heart health. The results of the study showed that those who took part had lower levels of the risk factors for heart disease, such as inflammation and cholesterol.

“The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behaviour and mental health, and a lessening of their negative moods, were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health,” says Dr Hannah Schreier, a postdoctoral fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who led the study.

So, it looks like getting out into the community and helping others not only boosts your mood, but has some physical and health benefits too.