Karma Korner … The benefits of volunteering

Lend a helping hand and help yourself in the process!
Lend a helping hand and help yourself in the process!

It has been a long time since I’ve posted anything here, but I came across an interesting bit of information that might make volunteering for something look a bit better. My daughter and I still volunteer at the library and we have fun. We work at the used book sales and love greeting the customers and helping to raise money for library programs. We have met some great people and we always learn something new. And if I am honest, we buy many books at the sales to add to our overflowing book cases. Not bad for a few hours time. We’ve volunteered at the library long before the following article caught my eye.

Did you know that volunteer work is beneficial to the volunteer? We think of the usual things like helping the community, getting to meet people, warm fuzzies, etc. But here is something you may not have known. Older adults get a health boost simply by volunteering. Yes, it is true! But volunteering at any age can be a boon. There have been other studies that have shown that there are heart-healthy benefits in the adolescent age group. Good news for all, right?

Let’s look now at a study that was done and published online in Psychological Bulletin. (Being a psychiatric nurse at this phase of my nursing career, psychiatric info jumps out at me.) These researchers took a look at studies already out there on the benefits of service, reviewed the mounds of paperwork, and came to a conclusion. Here are the results: Volunteering is linked to reduced depression, better overall health, a decrease in functional limitations (which means things like joint stiffness, ability to get around, things that you use your body for), and a longer life span.

How does one accrue these benefits? Volunteering can reduce stress. Higher levels of stress can increase blood pressure and heart rate. Remember my man, Hans Selye, and his GAS? He concluded from his research that continued stress causes a higher heart rate and blood pressure which over time wears on the body. The more physical activity you fit into your day, the greater the benefits for weight and blood pressure control.

Volunteers have been found to be more physically active because they are up and moving around to help others, and spend less time sitting. (Sitting a lot is not a good thing, even if it may be comfortable.) In addition, if you are focusing on others you are less likely to be stewing over your own problems which in themselves can be stressful.

The researchers also found that the benefits seemed to occur in people who do a moderate level of volunteer work. Those who are above the moderate level enjoy the same benefits, but extra service hours don’t lead to an even higher level of health benefits. How much is moderate service? Approximately 100 hours per year. Broken down that is about 2 – 3 hours per week. That’s not a whole lot if you think about it. Is one type of volunteer work better than another? Research shows that there is not one activity better than another. Just find something you would find enjoyable and rewarding. There are hundreds of service organizations. Find one that fits your tastes and time.

So what are you waiting for? We have such busy lives that we don’t feel we can fit another thing in. Think of the benefits you will reap by volunteering a little. It’s worth it.

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