Volunteer — for better health!

This week is National Volunteer Week. If you’ve ever volunteered, you’re probably familiar with the positive feelings it causes. Did you know your health also benefits?

Obviously, the main purpose of volunteering is to give unselfishly to others. Whether you gather items for the local food bank, spend time sitting with patients in a hospital or nursing home, or prepare meals for a homeless shelter, you’re offering your time and attention for the good of others.

But other people aren’t the only ones who benefit when you volunteer. Your health also reaps the benefits. Let’s take a look at some ways your health benefits from volunteering:

  • Your mental health improves. People who volunteer their time are connected socially with others, which in itself has been shown to help fend off feelings of loneliness and depression.

Seniors, in particular, experience the mental health benefits of volunteering. That’s because many people lose their sense of purpose and fulfillment as they age. Volunteering gives seniors back a sense of purpose, as they give to others.

Spending time volunteering also helps alleviate stress, which can benefit both your physical and mental health.

  • Your blood pressure lowers. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found that volunteering is associated with a decreased risk of high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for many health conditions, including stroke and heart disease.

The study found that adults who volunteered 200 or more hours a year had a 40 percent lower risk of high blood pressure than those who didn’t volunteer at all. Don’t have that much time to give back? That’s OK. Other studies have correlated drops in blood pressure with less volunteer time.

  • Your heart also benefits in other ways. A different study, conducted by Canadian researchers, looked at high schoolers who volunteered for a 10-week period.

The researchers found that cholesterol levels and body mass index dropped in these teens when compared with other teens who weren’t volunteering. In addition, their overall level of body inflammation also decreased.

High levels of cholesterol, BMI and inflammation are all associated with a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

  • You may live longer. A study of adults age 55 and older found that those who volunteered with two or more organizations per year experienced 44 percent lower mortality than in a 5-year period than those who did not volunteer.

This effect is probably a combination of the other health benefits, since better mental health, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, lower BMI and decreased inflammation are all associated with a reduced risk of developing serious health conditions.

Giving back at Erlanger

There are a variety of ways to give of your time and energy to benefit patients at Erlanger. You can become a member of the Erlanger Baroness Auxiliary or participate in one of our events, like the Dragon Boat Festival.

We also have opportunities for college students and teens.

Interested in volunteering but aren’t sure where to start? Call (423) 778-9298 for more information.