If you regularly donate your time and efforts to charitable pursuits, you probably feel very gratified afterward – perhaps even to the point that you believe you’re getting back more than you give. This feeling is very common among volunteers.
Of course, most people are aware of the mental health benefits of volunteering. For instance, it can help you gain self-confidence, become more socially connected and allow you to create your own support network with other individuals who share your interests. All of this can make you less susceptible to feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression. While that’s easily understood, there is now growing evidence that these positive effects may extend far beyond your mental health.
Some studies suggest that those who help others are being rewarded with better physical health. One interesting phenomenon among volunteers is that they tend to have lower blood pressure than their non-volunteering counterparts. This finding is significant. Often considered a bellwether of poor health, high blood pressure is known to lead to many serious conditions, including heart attack and stroke.
It’s important to note that the role volunteer work plays in blood pressure levels – if any – is unclear. It could simply be that people who take care of others tend to take care of themselves as well, by taking positive steps like eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep and seeing a physician regularly for medical checkups. Alternatively, volunteering could increase physical activity in general, helping people to naturally become more active when they wouldn’t otherwise do so.
Even so, there are indications of additional health benefits. Through serving others, it is possible to achieve a sense of meaning and appreciation. This can create a calming effect that reduces stress, and lower stress levels are often directly linked to health outcomes. Additionally, volunteer activities that provide mental stimulation, such as tutoring, can enhance memory and cognitive skills.
While all of these findings are still inconclusive, many experts agree that the key to achieving better health through volunteering is to do so for the right reasons. Your motivation should be to truly make a difference in someone else’s life, and not to simply make yourself feel better.
At Moffitt Cancer Center, our research team is continually studying the effects of health-related behaviors, health care practices and health-related quality of life. Every day, we are learning more about how these factors can contribute to the prevention, detection and management of all types of cancer.
If you’d like to learn about volunteering at Moffitt Cancer Center, visit our section on Volunteer Opportunities.
To learn more about Moffitt, call 1-888-MOFFITT or complete a new patient registration form online. No referrals are required.