Volunteer for better health
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
When you think about volunteering, the first thing that might come to mind is the various ways volunteers help make a difference for the community. Whether it means collecting food for a food bank, assisting young learners master reading, providing companionship for older neighbors, or cleaning up a local section of highway, a volunteer helps by giving their time.
What you might not realize is that it also benefits the people who volunteer.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University found adults over 50 who volunteer regularly are less likely to be diagnosed with high blood pressure than non-volunteers. Lower blood pressure has other health advantages, such as a lower risk for heart disease, stroke and premature death.
How much time do you need to donate to get physical results? This same Carnegie Mellon University study found 200 hours of volunteering per year correlated to lower blood pressure. Let’s break that down – Americans spend an average of four hours a day watching TV and five to six hours a day on their phone, possibly doing both at the same time. Imagine how helpful it could be if a portion of that time was spent helping others.
Benefits to your heart and mind
When you feel like you’ve done something good, a neurotransmitter in your brain releases dopamine, which helps decrease stress and increase positive, relaxed feelings. A social connection through volunteer activities can help with feelings of loneliness or isolation. Placing the focus on the needs of others can also create a sense of purpose.
A 2012 study in the journal Health Psychology found that the people who volunteer regularly lived longer, but only if their intentions were to truly help others and not self-serving.
“Helping others and knowing that what we do makes a difference in the life of another can provide a sense of accomplishment” said Denise Williams, Licensed Independent Social Worker
in Behavioral Health Therapeutic Services, Genesis HealthCare System. “That sense of fulfillment can be a source of hope, strength and resilience for the volunteer.”
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