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The Whole Human

6 ways volunteering benefits your health

Most of us have participated in a form of volunteer work at some point in our lives. From church youth groups to high school graduation requirements, volunteerism has a place in every phase of life. But we must admit — this charitable time has definitely taken a backseat in the throes of our twenties as careers, social engagements and general “adulting” efforts take center stage. There’s only so much time in a day, right?

Well, reprioritizing a chunk of that time for others could work wonders for your health.

A 2017 study from BMC Public Health found that volunteer work can improve virtually anyone’s mental and physical health, sense of life satisfaction and social well-being, but especially those who don’t currently spend a lot of time participating in charitable activities. But let’s break that down even more specifically. Here’s what those health benefits of volunteering look like.

1. It gives you an additional sense of purpose.

It’s amazing what can happen when you step out of your standard routine for a moment and provide for others who truly need assistance. Studies have found a clear association between volunteering and a boosted sense of personal accomplishment, a renewed sense of purpose and, therefore, an improved enjoyment of life overall. You don’t have to join the Peace Corps or take on missionary work or give up all of your worldly possessions to feel this deep sense of connection — just dedicate a few hours of your time each week to someone (or something) else.

2. It staves off depression.

If you’re someone who easily feels isolated in your day-to-day life, signing up for volunteer opportunities can help you reduce your risk of depression. It creates a simple yet reliable social support system and provides opportunities for people to take on important roles in the lives of others. So regardless of whether you’re interested in becoming a mentor, offering someone company or joining in a mission that’s larger than yourself, all signs point toward a happier existence.

3. It keeps you active.

We all know that our desk jobs rob us of important movement throughout the day, and don’t even get us started on the country’s obesity and diabetes statistics. But volunteer work, depending on the type you choose, can be a great way to remedy this sedentary problem. A 2013 study from Carnegie Mellon University observed a reduction in blood pressure levels in volunteers who were typically less active before signing on for their new charity work. So if the gym doesn’t appeal to you, try building houses with Habitat for Humanity or walking dogs at the local animal shelter — you’ll enjoy similar health benefits.

4. It can reduce your stress levels.

If you live a super hectic and competitive life throughout the majority of your week, using your off hours to volunteer can be one of the best stress management tools out there. The “happiness effect” that giving to others creates releases a flood of dopamine in your brain, boosting how you feel across the board. And the more time you spend volunteering, the better those feel-good hormones counter your not-so-fun cortisol levels. This stress buffer also helps you stave off illness down the line.

5. It connects you with potential new friends.

Most major volunteer opportunities require groups of people, creating an easy way to connect socially with others and start off on common ground. Volunteer work-based friendships can be some of your strongest because of the shared core values that bring you together in the first place. Plus, the fact that you spend time together contributing toward a cause that you believe in and that fuels your purpose only adds to the solid foundation upon which your friendship grows.

6. It helps you live longer.

That’s right — so long as you approach your volunteer work with a genuine interest in helping others (as opposed to using the charitable time for personal gain), you can reduce your mortality risk in the long run. And the more consistently you volunteer, the better this benefit becomes. Guess it really does pay off to be a good, altruistic person, huh?

This article first appeared on Swirled.

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