Volunteering is good for mind and body

When you volunteer to help others, you’re helping yourself as well. Volunteering is good for your heart and mind, and now there’s plenty of research to prove it.

A recent study published in the journal BMJ Open revealed that people who volunteered reported being happier. Volunteering may “provide a sense of purpose,” the researchers wrote in the study. It also helps maintain social networks that are critical as people age.

Volunteering can be a mental pick-me-up, too. When we feel empathy or act generously it can increase levels of oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin, a hormone associated with trust and feelings of closeness (also known as the “hug hormone”), may reduce stress and increase feelings of calm.

Further evidence of the positive effects of volunteerism was found in a study from Carnegie Mellon University, published in Psychology and Aging. Researchers discovered that adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. High blood pressure greatly increases the risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease and stroke.

But adults aren’t the only ones to benefit from volunteering. Researchers have found that adolescents who give their time to help others also benefit by developing a sense of purpose and a healthy connection to their community.

This holiday season consider getting involved in a local charitable organization, or make it a New Year’s resolution to volunteer on a regular basis. If it’s overwhelming at first, start small. Commit to volunteering at one event to see how it feels.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Help those living in shelters by prepping and serving meals
  • Provide transportation services to adults ages 60 and older who are unable to drive
  • Read to kids at a local school
  • Assist aspiring college students or mentor those new to the workforce
  • Help out at a local animal rescue organization and/or shelter, or foster an animal

In this season of giving, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!