The Health Benefits of Volunteering

By Dawna Bennett, MS, RD, CDN

Global estimates place the number of volunteers worldwide at 970 million. According to a study published by John Hopkins University, the hours volunteers contribute are the equivalent of more than 125 million full-time workers! Approximately one in four volunteers contribute their time and skills through not-for-profit organizations. Others do so directly, helping their neighbors as well as their communities.

Are you interested in becoming a volunteer? Volunteers play a critical role, not only in the lives of others but in their own lives. The 2009 Johns Hopkins University study revealed that volunteering increases the functioning of a person’s brain. Volunteer activities get you moving and thinking at the same time. Volunteering can lead to better health. Older volunteers are the most likely to receive the physical and mental health benefits from their volunteering activities. Research continues to show that older volunteers experience greater increases in life satisfaction and greater positive changes in their perceived health as a result of volunteering. Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. Even when controlling other factors such as age, health and gender, research has found that when individuals volunteer, they are more likely to live longer.

Volunteering also is a great way to meet new people who share common interests. One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to participate in activities together. It also makes your body feel good by releasing endorphins, just like a vigorous workout. That means the more you volunteer, the happier you become!

The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests with the volunteer opportunities available in your community. Meals on Wheels for WNY is just one example of where you can volunteer your time and give back to the community while helping you to stay healthy and live longer.