By Trena-Winans-Bagnall, Senior Services Education & Community Outreach Director.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “as you give, you get” or variations on that theme. What is interesting is that evidence is mounting that this maxim is backed up by fact. In particular, I am referring to the act of volunteering and its role and benefit in numerous areas of our lives.
So what are these benefits? In a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University, they researched people over the age of 50 and found that those who regularly volunteered were less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who did not volunteer. Now you might think that the extra stress of being busy with volunteer efforts would create stress, but the evidence tells us just the opposite. Volunteering increasingly is shown to reduce stress. Let’s look at why that may be.
- Many volunteer jobs add an element of physical activity into your day. Exercise is a proven stress-buster.
- Volunteering helps you meet and connect with others. Social connections are crucial to our sense of well-being.
- Helping someone else can give you perspective when you see others with greater difficulties than you. It may also reinforce a sense of gratitude for what you have, and what you are able to do.
- Focusing on helping others allows you to not worry about your own frustrations and struggles for a time.
- Most importantly, making a difference in the life of another person gives a sense of continued meaning and purpose in your life.
So how much is enough? The Carnegie Mellon study found that 200 hours a year—less than 4 hours a week, was ideal. Meanwhile, other studies have shown that as little as 100 hours a year has benefit.
In addition to the Carnegie Mellon study, other recent research expands on the benefits of doing good for others. In February we ran an article about the Longevity Study, which showed that people who volunteered regularly lived longer than those who did not. If that is not enough, a 2013 study published by UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute found that volunteers felt better physically, mentally and emotionally, were better able to manage and lower stress, felt more deeply connected to others, and were more engaged in managing their own health than non-volunteering counterparts.
There you have it. Volunteering helps you live longer, better and healthier! So what are we waiting for? Find ways to help someone, someplace, in some way. Opportunities abound, from driving for Senior Services, to reading to disadvantaged kids, to knitting hats for cancer patients. Tap into your talents, skills, or the simple gift of your presence. Evidence shows you will richly receive as you give.