What are the health benefits of volunteering?

You might not think it but volunteering has major health benefits for those who take part.

They include improved self-esteem, a more positive outlook on the world and less risk of depression. You will also stay physically and mentally active, especially if you choose to volunteer to do something involving  physically active.

Whether you choose to spend your time helping to prevent further outbreaks of Ebola with the MSF in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or you decide to spend time helping walk dogs at your local animal shelter, there are health benefits to be had from volunteering.

It can help with depression

Volunteering can act as a safety net when you are experiencing a difficult time. You are able to connect to other people who are like-minded and who you can talk to about your depressed feelings and mindset.

If you volunteer regularly, you can maintain these social connections, meaning that when you do feel depresed, you have people you can reach out to. The act of volunteering itself releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which can help with improving your memory, your motivation and your feelings of contentedness. Simply put, volunteering is a natural and social way to combat depression, but be sure to speak to your doctor about other treatments if you feel you need extra help.

There are physical benefits

Some volunteering programmes involve physical labour, which can improve your fitness and overall health. You might be volunteering in the DRC, helping to care for children suffering from Ebola by building them a safe haven or you might be building houses in a disaster area – either way, you will be reaping the physical benefits.

Staying physically and mentally active improves your overall longevity, as you are actively working towards bettering yourself and the world around you. You can look into active volunteering, which means that you will be out in the field performing duties such as building houses or even walking dogs. Volunteering does not have to be sedentary and can even provide you with your daily exercise.

Your stress levels will be reduced

Stress is a major contributor to ill-health and volunteering is one easy way to combat it. There have been studies performed on the “happiness effect” of volunteering, which means that you will become happier and less stressed the more you volunteer.

Being less stressed is also helpful for your physical well-being, as you will have lower blood pressure, you will eat less unhealthy foods and your heart will perform at  optimal level. Volunteering is a way of giving back to a community or cause, which allows you to stop focusing on the negative elements in your own life and see the world from a different perspective. So, why not sign up for volunteering for a cause that is close to your heart to help it and others too?

You will forge connections

Now, forging social connections might not sound like a health benefit, but studies have shown that having social connections is vital to our mental health and well-being, which is what volunteering can provide for you.

You might be volunteering in the DRC to help with those affected by the Ebola virus, and while this might be a harrowing situation, you will still be able to meet new people and forge new bonds. Expanding your connections will also help to broaden your horizons and expose you to new and different cultures, which can teach you about your own worldviews. Making new friends can also help with combatting depression and mental fatigue.

It gives you a sense of purpose

Having a sense of purpose can help people to feel less isolated, which is one of the major causes of depression in older people. Signing up for a volunteering programme will ensure that you meet new people and have something to look forward to doing when you wake up each morning.

For those who have recently graduated or for students on holiday who have nothing to do, volunteering can provide you with mental stimulation that you might feel is lacking during this period. You will learn new skills and you could even find a new career path if you do not have one already. Having a sense of purpose can make you feel better about yourself and improve your mental health too.

Reap the rewards of volunteering

You might think that volunteering is a one way street in terms of benefits (the people you are helping benefit from your help) but in fact, you will reap both physical and mental benefits too. You will find your stress levels diminished and your depression lifted by helping those in need.

You will also forge new connections and you will find a sense of purpose that might previously have been lacking in your life. Sign up for a volunteering programme that is close to your heart and reap the rewards thereof.