By Lucy Fry

Last time, I considered Volunteering and its role in the community.  Today I am considering the impact of Volunteering on the volunteers’ wellbeing.

Mental and Physical Well Being

Fascinatingly, there are a plethora of benefits to our mental and physical wellbeing as a result of us volunteering and helping others.  A sense of purpose can serve to distract us from and rationalise our own problems. This combined with increased social contact can help to combat depression.  Being helpful in itself can help improve self-confidence and provide sense of identity and pride; it can deliver actual pleasure feelings to the brain.   There is a lower mortality rate for people who help, they tend to be physically active, have lower blood pressure, have better thinking skills, and a lower risk of heart disease.

Social Science and Medicine (2009) published research at the London School of Economics which studied the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults. They found that the more people volunteered, the happier they were.  In comparison with people who never volunteered, the likelihood of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy.

Carnegie Mellon University research published in Psychology and Aging found that carrying out 200 hours of volunteering a year correlated to lower blood pressure in adults over 50.  High blood pressure is key because it is an important indicator of health because it contributes to heart disease, stroke and premature death.  A key finding however – is that the cause or activity has to be something that the Volunteer is genuinely interested in doing and helping.

Carrying out volunteer work that we find meaningful and interesting can be a rejuvenating break from our daily routines and commitments.    The time away can provide us with inspiration, vision and renewed creativity that can carry over to all areas of our lives.

A friend’s grandmother has tirelessly devoted time in her life to working at Oxfam – in the stores and also organising fashion shows for all generations. She’s 90 this year and this routine and contact in her life may have helped her for all the reasons above.

Next time, I will consider Volunteering for candidates, employees, and for employers in the modern workplace.