There’s no denying that doing something good for others feels good. It’s the sort of warm, fuzzy feeling that fuels a sense of purpose and connection. But did you know that giving back is actually good for your health too?
Below, experts explain how it has an impact on your overall wellbeing.
Volunteering can lower stress
In the hustle of our careers, social lives, and obligations, stress can run rampant. “Stress is a monster when it comes to our health,” says Vicky Woodruff, a licensed social worker. “It raises cortisol levels, increases blood pressure, and puts strain on the body as a whole. People with high levels of anxiety tend to have high rates of comorbid pain, obesity, and other physical health issues.” In order to reduce stress, a change of pace is required. Volunteering can do just that while breeding perspective, social connection, and happy hormones.
Volunteering may reduce blood pressure
According to Dr. Nikola Djordjevic, family physician and contributor to MedAlertHelp, “People over 50 who regularly volunteer are less likely to develop high blood pressure than people in the same age group who don’t volunteer.” Though the exact reason is unclear, Sandy Griffin, a licensed practical nurse, suggests it may be due to stress. “What we think and how we feel is directly related to our physical health – just look at the correlation between stress and ulcers, high blood pressure, complexion, and hair color.”
Volunteering can replace less healthy habits
Licensed clinical social worker and author Arlene B. Englander says, “In my work with clients who complain about unhealthy habits like obsessive rumination and worry, emotional overeating, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues, I always ask at some point, ‘How are you spending your time?’” Englander suggests that too much free time makes it more tempting to fall back on negative habits. On the other hand, giving back keeps your brain, hands, and schedule a little fuller and a little more positive.
Volunteering is actually used to treat mental health
“According to a recent study, both mental and physical health, as well as overall life satisfaction, improve [with volunteering],” says Bart Wolbers, a researcher at Nature Builds Health. Social worker Dr. Julie Lopez adds that volunteering is even used as a form of treatment for mental health and addiction. “[Volunteering is prescribed] under different names: acts of restoration, making amends, giving back, making a difference,” says Lopez. It can help patients gain a sense of responsibility, engagement, feel a connection to power, and find meaning.
Volunteering can increase overall longevity
Turns out, volunteering might actually lead to a longer lifespan. “A systematic review study in 2013, which combined the outcomes of more than 60 previous studies, concluded that ‘all-cause mortality’ risk declined with more volunteering time,” says Wolbers. “When all-cause mortality goes down, which happens with interventions such as more movement or a healthier diet, it’s almost always a sign you’re becoming healthier.”
xx, The FabFitFun Team