As seen on Nationwide Children's Hospital's 700 Childrens® Blog
Volunteering isn’t just A thing to do, it’s THE thing to do. The power of volunteering has been studied for decades. You may already know how great it is for your mental health, but did you know there’s a growing body of research that volunteering is great for your physical health as well?
Volunteers Are Happier
When researchers at the London School of Economics looked at the relationship between happiness and volunteering, they found that volunteers had significantly increased levels of happiness. Volunteering makes people smile and builds a sense of community and empathy for others. Volunteers have lower rates of depression and improved moods. This improved happiness pays back in ways that are hard to measure.
Volunteers Live Longer
Volunteering promotes physical activity and lowers stress levels. Knowing that there is a strong link between mental well-being and physical well-being, this makes sense. One key to note, however, is that volunteering should be done to help others (not simply to help yourself feel better).
Volunteers Have a Lower Risk of Heart Disease
Numerous studies have shown that people who volunteer on a regular basis have lower blood pressure. This has a positive effect on cardiovascular health, lowering rates of stroke and heart disease. But how much time volunteering would you need to get this lowered blood pressure effect? The answer is not much - it may be as little as 10 hours a month or so.
Volunteers Feel like They Have More Time
One of the biggest barriers to volunteering is working it into busy schedules and time constraints. An article in the Harvard Business Review in 2012 by a Wharton professor showed an important paradox: giving to others makes you feel like you have more time on your hands. So it may be time to switch out a runner’s high for a helper’s high.
Volunteers Learn Life-Long Skills
Volunteering helps kids learn important social skills and is also a great time to help them explore new interests. Helping kids learn that they can make a difference in people’s lives empowers kids and helps them develop a sense of identity. These are lifelong lessons that they can take into adulthood with them.
Opportunities for Volunteering Abound
So how can kids get involved? Asking around at local churches, schools, fire stations, food banks and shelters is a great first start. There are also national and local websites focused on connecting volunteers with opportunities in their area. Volunteer Match is one example. Users can search by zip code and area of interest.
Dr. Emily Decker is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Urgent Care and Primary Care Clinics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. She has a strong interest in child advocacy, and serves as the medical director for CAP4Kids Columbus.