Between holiday festivities and family events, calendars can fill up quickly during this time of year. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s important to find time to give back. In addition to helping those in need, research indicates that volunteering may decrease an individual’s risk of illness later in life and offers some of the following physical, mental and spiritual health benefits.
- Better Brain Health: Volunteering can improve elasticity in the brain and decrease a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Depending on the circumstances, an individual may be required to think critically, problem-solve or even memorize things while volunteering – all of which are important brain exercises for people at all walks of life.
- Boosted Self-Esteem: It’s been found that those who lend a helping hand have higher self-esteem and are happier overall. The socializing involved in certain volunteer experiences can improve communication skills while strengthening an individual’s connection to the community outside of his or her normal surroundings. Studies also show that volunteering can give adults age 65 and older a renewed sense of purpose and accomplishment.
- Improved Family Dynamics: Volunteering can be an opportunity for families to create meaningful traditions and lasting memories. These experiences also tend to eliminate screen time, allowing for more interpersonal communication between family members. Caring for others, especially those in need, teaches children valuable life lessons about compassion, generosity and teamwork.
- Inspired Thinking: Habitat for Humanity found that those who volunteer often have a deeper desire to give back throughout their lifetime. Being a lifelong volunteer can may inspire friends, family or coworkers to join the cause.
- Longer Lifespan: Research indicates that volunteering may increase physical activity among those who aren’t normally active. Because of this, an individual who frequently participates in activity-based volunteering may maintain a healthier weight, lower their risk of heart disease and increase life expectancy.
- Reduced Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety: Researchers have found that helping others reduces stress, which can improve mental and physical health overall. The social interactions and physical demands of volunteering have also been shown to reduce symptoms of poor mental health while preventing individuals from isolating or dwelling on negative thoughts and behaviors.
Where to Start
As of 2015, there are more than two million
volunteers in Michigan. Despite that number seeming high, the Bureau of
Labor Statistics has seen a steady decline in volunteering across
the U.S. in recent years. During the holiday season and beyond, consider lending
time or resources to any of the following causes:
- Blood drives
- Charity run/walks
- Clothing drives
- Community gardens/cleanups
- Food banks/drives
- Homeless shelters
- Soup kitchens
- Toy drives
Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.