Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Health Benefits of Volunteering

When it comes to enhancing your own health and well-being, diet and exercise are typically top of mind, however, there are a handful of other activities that play important roles too. Volunteering covers all your bases - physical activity, social engagement, and feeling the positive effects of helping others. Healthwise, volunteering has been shown to:

Combat High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, hypertension, plagues millions of Americans and is a key risk factor for developing a host of conditions including heart disease and diabetes. When the blood vessels in your body narrow or your heart becomes weakened, your heart must pump blood through with greater force to keep up with the circulation needs of all your organs, nerves, and so on. The higher that force, or pressure, the more stress and strain it places on the cardiovascular system and critical organs, even the brain. Findings from a 2013 study found specifically that older adults who volunteer regularly are less likely to develop hypertension than non-volunteers.

Relieves Stress
While a calming yoga session or relaxing music might be your go-to stress relievers, getting busy helping others might also do the trick. Volunteering has the unique power to help those serving others gain new perspectives and outlooks on life, don a sense of purpose and fulfillment to life, as well as engage them with groups that share their interests and passions. Even altruistic volunteering done largely to make one feel good about oneself can bring about feelings of confidence, self-reliance, and purpose that may have been lacking.

Improves Cognitive Function
As volunteering requires both physical and emotional contributions, it can be a powerful activity for improving brain health. A 2009 study from John Hopkins University found that elderly adults at higher risk for cognitive decline benefitted from volunteering as mentors for young people. Brain scan evidence revealed that crucial regions of the brain responsible for planning and decision-making actually experienced short-term gains and were matched by positive behavioral improvements too.

Boosts Mood
You know that little high you get when you eat chocolate or spend time with a good friend? That “pleasurable” feeling is actually the result of the hormone dopamine being produced in your brain. Turns out volunteering can also stimulate dopamine release, turning your time helping others into a feel-good sensation you will want to get more of. Prioritizing giving back by scheduling time to serve even when you are busy has also been shown to enhance feelings of personal efficiency and know-how.

Can Give You a Workout
Volunteering and service projects which incorporate physical labor can be beneficial to your mind and body by providing a low-impact workout that gets your heart pumping and your body sweating. Everything from building houses to highway cleanups, running camp activities, or volunteering to walk dogs for the local animal shelter can provide a physical workout that helps strengthen your muscles and bones.

Looking for health-benefiting volunteer ideas for the fall?

The beautiful weather of fall matched with an abundance of holiday activity make the last few months of the year the perfect time for volunteering. Fall service ideas include:

•    Volunteering at a fall festival or carnival in your community
•    Running or walking in a fall or holiday charity athletic event that raises money for a good cause
•    Installing fall prevention equipment like shower grab bars, railings, and ramps for an elderly neighbor
•    Serving at a local food bank or homeless shelter during the holidays
•    Walking and grooming dogs for the local animal shelter
•    Helping rebuild houses and communities impacted by recent hurricanes
•    Participating in a highway, neighborhood, park, trail or river cleanup
•    Rake leaves or shovel snow for a local nonprofit or homeless shelter

Where time and budget allows, volunteering also affords you the opportunity to travel and widen your horizons. “Voluntourism” is popular in many countries where people who want to travel and help others are put up for weeks or months at a time and can do a range of things from teaching to building houses and helping the environment. Look for volunteer opportunities near your with free online services like CreatetheGood.org and Volunteermatch.org.

This is a guest blog entry.

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