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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.