People Who Volunteer Live Longer, According to Research
If you want to live a long and happy life—and of course you do—there's a growing body of evidence that volunteering can improve your physical and mental health and even increase longevity. Yep, it turns out that there are a lot of perks to giving back to the community and the world.
A recent study of 2,705 volunteers age 18 and older found that 75 percent of those who volunteered in the past 12 months said volunteering made them feel "physically healthier," according to the report. More than one-third (34 percent) of those who volunteered said that giving back in some way helped them better manage their chronic illnesses, compared to those who have not volunteered in the past 12 months. All that from volunteering just two to 2.5 hours a week, as the study suggests.
Similarly, a survey from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society found that nearly a quarter of people who volunteer say the experience helped them become more physically fit and 75 percent agree that it's a great way to get in shape.
Another and larger study, which involved more than 64,000 subjects age 60 and older from 1998 to 2010, found that volunteering slows the cognitive decline associated with aging. Individuals who volunteered 100 hours a year scored about 6 percent higher in cognitive testing, on average than non-volunteers.
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If you or someone you love has hypertension, a 2013 study from Carnegie Mellon University found that volunteer work resulted in a reduction in blood pressure levels. Regular volunteer work can also help adults over the age of 50 be less likely to develop high blood pressure in the first place. Since high blood pressure can contribute to heart disease, stroke, and premature death, keeping it low is important.
Volunteering is also good for your mental health, particularly for people who are isolated or lonely as volunteering can get people out of the house and into a collaborative environment. Volunteering can help reduce symptoms of depression, according to a 2014 study in Psychological Bulletin. If you have suffered a loss, volunteering can also ease that pain, too, says a study in Psychology and Aging. Of course volunteering is by definition good for the community and alleviating depression goes both ways. Mentors can help the people they are mentoring overcome their own symptoms of depression, according to a study from Washington State Mentors.
If the physical and mental benefits don't have you signing up for a shift at the homeless shelter, after school program, dog shelter, or soup kitchen, consider this: Volunteering can make you live longer. There is a catch, though. According to 2012 study in the journal Health Psychology participants who regularly gave back to their community, lived longer, but only if their intentions were truly altruistic. In other words, they had to be volunteering to help others, not just to make themselves feel better, live longer, or polish their resume. Think you have it in you to be good for goodness's sake? Head to VolunteerMatch to find volunteer opportunities in your community.