Monday, August 3, 2009

Volunteers Get a Health Boost Too

Lynn Lauritzen, director of Volunteer Services at Fauquier Health, was commenting to one of her volunteers, Grace Andrea, on all the time she gives to Fauquier Health. Grace’s response was, “It keeps me young! If I don’t use it, I lose it!” That inspired Lynn to share these thoughts.

There’s plenty of science to back up the idea that volunteering is a “two-fer” -- that is, while you’re helping your community, the environment or other worthy causes, you’re also helping your own physical and mental health. In one study, people with chronic pain who volunteered as peer counselors found that their pain, disability and feelings of depression all lessened.

Other research looked at more than 7,500 older U.S. residents and showed that those who were frequent volunteers had a significantly lower death rate than non-volunteers – even after adjusting for health problems. And on college campuses where students gave above-average hours to volunteer projects, students also had
a 26 percent lower risk of binge drinking.

Of course, most folks don’t get into volunteering for the health benefits. They volunteer because they care about a cause or want to improve their neighborhood or world.

But healthy rewards may be a part of why many stay dedicated to volunteerism.
“The volunteer role provides physical, cognitive and social activity that’s added on to the daily routine,” says Nancy Morrow-Howelle, PhD, a professor of social work and researcher on volunteerism at Washington University of St. Louis.

It’s been shown that volunteer work enhances well-being (defined by measurements of happiness, life satisfaction, self–esteem, sense of control over life, physical health and depression). Some research shows that investing 100 volunteer hours per year is the threshold you need to reach to experience health benefits.

It’s just one more reason to volunteer.

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