Natalie Harrison takes a look at how Volunteering with us can have many positive impacts on your health...
Making a difference lies at the heart of what it is to be a volunteer. Undoubtedly, we have a positive effect on the lives of those around us. And in doing so, we break free from the snares of social isolation, meet new people, and forge new friendships. Voluntary work helps foster a sense of community. It brings together people from diverse backgrounds, from all walks of life. We learn new skills and discover new interests and hobbies.
So, sure - sharing our time and skills helping good causes and other people feels good. Undoubtedly, it increases our life satisfaction and imbues us with a sense of wellbeing, companionship and purpose. But what about the impact on our mental and physical health? Are there any tangible effects?
Volunteering – what is it good for?
When it comes to the health benefits of voluntary work, even a cursory glance at academic research papers will show you that the factors to be considered are many and complex. Nevertheless, numerous studies have been carried out looking at various health outcomes – evidence shows that giving your time for as little as two hours a week will reap rewards. In terms of mental health, increased social contact appears to fend off depression (and of course, loneliness, too). Doing the right thing has even been shown to mitigate cognitive decline in those aged 60 and over.
In adults in general, stress levels, physical exertion and strength have been monitored, with improvements noted by researchers at the University of Oxford. It sounds pretty obvious; if you’re struggling with a sedentary lifestyle and want to get to work increasing your general fitness, undertaking a physical role will help you move towards that goal. There’s significant payoff in such altruistic acts, too, with lowered blood pressure and a longer life span a gift we’d all be happy to receive.
Positive effects are seen with the younger population, too. A study of Canadian high school students revealed that compared to those who did not volunteer, those who did reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease, and, overall, lowered their BMI and lost more weight into the bargain. So it seems that in health terms, there’s good reason to volunteer no matter what your age may be.
Volunteer - but suit yourself.
One thing to remember, that said, regards finding the right fit. It’s been proven to be important in terms of reaping health returns when volunteering. When the right activity or volunteering role marries up with an individual’s values, improvements in health are said to occur. So, don’t be put off if at first you don’t find the right role for you – if you care about nature and the great outdoors, but prefer working with people in a hospitality-driven buzzy environment (beehives not included), then working in one of our cafes and shops might suit you best. Or perhaps, rather than working with wood building fences, your skills lie more in treading the boards. There’s even a volunteering opportunity to act in our short films! (You can read a separate blog, What Volunteering is right for me? here)
Rest, reduce, revive.
Rest and relaxation are fundamental to our general health. So of course, from time to time we all need that well-earned break. But if the idea of lounging around poolside for a week doesn’t quite cut it - you want to combine a change of scenery with giving something back, perhaps - getting away from it all on one of our residential placements might be just the ticket. The best of both worlds – bag yourself a well-earned break, and lower your stress levels and increase your fitness.