Angela Thoreson, L.I.C.S.W.
Psychiatry & Psychology
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Helping people, changing lives: 3 health benefits of volunteering
Volunteers make an immeasurable difference in people's lives and often serve with the intention of helping others. Did you know that volunteering can benefit your health, as well?
Research has shown that volunteering offers many 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, and volunteers report better physical health than do 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 risk of many physical and mental health problems, such has heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety and general illness. In addition, a Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals 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, which gives volunteers a sense of purpose, especially when volunteering in the areas they find meaningful. Older volunteers experience greater increases in life satisfaction and self-esteem.
At Mayo Clinic Health System, they serve as greeters and waiting room attendants, provide patient room information and directions, and assist in transporting patients and patient items. Many volunteers use their craft skills to make prayer shawls, blankets, sweaters and hats, which are typically given to newborn babies and patients with cancer. Other services they 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. Dedicating time as a volunteer helps expand social network and practice social skills with others.
Volunteers at Mayo Clinic Health System have a variety of backgrounds but share a desire to care for the health and welfare of people in their communities. They are men, women, retirees, teenagers, former patients, professionals, homemakers and students. They volunteer for different reasons, such as to explore health care careers, sharpen skills to reenter the workforce, stay active during retirement, meet new people and serve their communities.
Are you interested in becoming a volunteer? There is a wide variety of volunteer opportunities in every community, whether you are 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 make a difference in the lives of patients and staff. Sign up to volunteer at a location near you.
Angela Thoreson is a licensed independent clinical social worker in Psychiatry & Psychology in Austin, Minnesota.