Angela Thoreson, L.I.C.S.W.
Psychiatry & Psychology
Speaking of HealthSuicide isn't always about dying, it may be about perceived reliefNovember 18, 2021
Volunteers make an immeasurable difference in people's lives and often serve to help others. Did you know that volunteering can benefit your health as well?
The good news is that you don't need to be a philanthropist or senator to enhance or create change in your community. Volunteering makes an immeasurable difference in people's lives. Your actions, big or small, can help others and benefit your health.
Research has shown that volunteering offers significant health benefits, especially for older adults, including:
1. Improves physical and mental health.
Volunteer activities keep people moving and thinking at the same time. Research has found that volunteering among adults, age 60 and over, provided benefits to physical and mental health. Volunteers report better physical health than nonvolunteers. Research also has shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression and anxiety, especially for people 65 and older.
Volunteering reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings by releasing dopamine. By spending time in service to others, volunteers report feeling a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect.
Reduced stress further decreases the risk of some physical and mental health problems, such has heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety and general illness. In addition, people who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health.
2. Provides a sense of purpose and teaches valuable skills.
The work that volunteers provide is essential to everyday activities, giving volunteers a sense of purpose, especially when giving their time and talent in the areas they find meaningful. Older volunteers experience greater increases in life satisfaction and self-esteem.
At Mayo Clinic Health System, volunteers serve as greeters and waiting room attendants, provide patient room information and directions, and help transport patients and patient items. Many volunteers use their craft skills to make prayer shawls, blankets, sweaters and hats, that typically are given to newborn babies and patients with cancer. Other services volunteers provide include working in the hospital gift shop, performing clerical duties for staff or offering pet therapy to patients through the Paws Force team.
3. Nurture new and existing relationships.
Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests. One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to participate in a shared activity.
In many cases, volunteers have diverse backgrounds, which helps expand their social network and allows them to practice social skills with others.
People volunteer for different reasons, such as exploring careers, sharpening skills, staying active during retirement, meeting new people and serving their communities. Yet all volunteers share a common desire to improve the health and welfare of people in their communities.
Are you interested in becoming a volunteer? There is a wide variety of volunteer opportunities in every community, whether you're interested in youth, environmental, health, religious or community causes. Check with local nonprofit and cultural organizations, schools, faith communities, or hospitals for options.
Or consider joining Mayo Clinic Health System's team of volunteers and making a difference in the lives of patients and staff. Sign up to volunteer at a location near you. Doing so will make a difference in the lives of your neighbors and friends — and also can improve your health.