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Volunteering Does a Body Good

volunteering

The hidden health benefits of volunteering
Photo credit: Heather Neal

There’s a conversation that happens over and over again in my house. Well, there’s a lot of those types of conversations, but one in particular I’m thinking about this morning. It goes something like this:

Me: Can you watch the Kynado for a little while this morning? I have stuff I really have to get done.

Husband: What kind of stuff?

Me: Work, Touch a Truck stuff, you know …

Husband: Why do you have to do that? If you don’t have time just don’t do it. It’s just volunteer work anyways.

Just volunteer work. While it is “just” volunteer work and there’s no one forcing me to do it, I truly want to and I commit to it the same way I commit to “real” work. Someone who isn’t used to volunteering may not understand, but those of you who have, I’m sure most certainly do. It’s not just about finding a way to use your time; it’s about making your community a better place to live. It’s even more important for me now that I have a son who’s going to grow up in this community — I want him and all the other kids to have the best opportunities possible. While it seems like volunteer projects can lead to stress, or add to the pressure already on our plates (I have to make cookies for the soccer team bake sale by tomorrow morning, etc.), there’s a whole lot of positive that comes out of it.

It’s not just about bolstering your resume or improving your skill set, although that is a benefit. It’s about making a difference in your community or in someone else’s life, and teaching your kids the value of doing so. It’s about emotional health and well-being for yourself as much as it is for someone else. It can improve your social relationships by strengthening friendships you already have or forming new ones. It helps anchor and connect you to a community or group of people. The act of volunteering or giving your time without expecting anything in return can literally improve your mindset. It can help fight depression, improve self-confidence, and decrease feelings of isolation. Volunteering can even provide physical health benefits. It’s been found that people who volunteer regularly have a lower mortality rate. Volunteering can help reduce chronic pain and even heart disease.

One study at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who volunteered 200 hours or more per year were 40% less likely to have high blood pressure. High blood pressure is a huge contributor of cardiovascular disease and affects about 1 in 3 adults, or 65 million Americans. To think volunteering could be an easy, low-cost, drug-free intervention for hypertension is astonishing. As heart disease is the number one cause of death (and often preventable) it’s important to start protecting our hearts from an early age. A study in British Columbia recently found that teens that volunteered just an hour a week had healthier hearts too, in relation to a lower BMI, lower cholesterol levels, and decreased inflammation.

So while I’ve always volunteered for more of the psychological benefits, like a sense of community and social good, I’m benefiting in a physiological way too.

So to answer your question, husband, Yes. I HAVE to.

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