Volunteer for Better Health

Volunteer for Better Health

Learn how giving up your time to help others can improve your health and attitude.



Help others and you might just be helping yourself. For decades, researchers have been connecting the dots between volunteering and improved health.

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It's difficult to be preoccupied, angry or stressed out when you're dedicating yourself to helping others. In that sense, volunteerism is like spirituality, yoga or meditation.

Caring and Sharing
Not all volunteer work is created equal when it comes to better health. A major factor in the link between volunteering and health is the sense of social belonging and purpose, especially for seniors, who might otherwise be lamenting a loss of status among family or former co-workers. So, volunteer jobs that are done online or in isolation don't have the same power as, say, reading stories at a school library or leading museum tours.

Similarly, volunteer work in which people go unappreciated, are pressured or must cope with unmanageable schedules negates any therapeutic effects. In the end, it seems, it's better to give than receive, as long as the giving doesn't unfairly burden you in the process.

Thinking of Volunteering?
Get the most out of your good work.

  • Look for opportunities that complement your personal or professional skills. You're more likely to excel, find personal satisfaction and be valued by the benefiting organization.
  • Try to commit at least two hours a week. Studies show that health benefits seem to kick in for volunteers who contribute at least 100 hours a year — although more isn't necessarily better.
  • Ask to observe or shadow others before you commit to a regular assignment. Don't be afraid to ask questions about your potential role or to say no if it doesn't feel like the right fit.
  • Choose a cause you're not pressured into. Studies have found that obligatory volunteering, as with a child's fund-raiser, doesn't have the same health benefits.
  • Recruit a friend or family member. You'll merge two of your social circles, strengthen bonds ... and have a built-in substitute if you're ever unable to make your volunteer commitment.

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