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Is Volunteering Good for Your Health?

According to a 2007 report by the Corporation for National and Community Service, The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, “volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease.” They found that volunteering is particularly beneficial for older adults who volunteer 100 hours each year.

In a January 2009 post, Volunteering for Your Health, Dr Sanjay Gupta wrote on the CNN blog, Consumer Tips, that,

“New research from the Mayo Clinic shows that people who volunteer have lower rates of heart disease and live longer. Previous studies have shown that people who volunteer are overall more physically and mentally fit than those who don’t.”

The study also found that for volunteering to have health benefits you need to volunteer 40-100 hours a year, which really isn’t that much. If you volunteered every week for one hour, that would be 52 hours!

On the other hand, a May 2004 BBC News article, Volunteering ‘bad for the health’, reports that a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that,

“Volunteers accepted there were benefits to the community as a whole, but only a few felt the work was of benefit to their own health, through factors such as the chance to meet new people, learn new skills, and be stimulated by the work itself.

Survey respondents were more likely to speak about the negative side of volunteering, such as witnessing difficult situations.”

This study found that, “Older people seemed to be less negatively affected than younger people.”

Finally, an October 2008 article on The Medical News, Too much volunteering bad for the health, reports that,

“According to a new study by researchers at the Australian National University (ANU), volunteering can be good for you, but too much can have an adverse effect on a person’s health.”

The people who felt adverse effects were volunteering more than 15 hours a week.

Looking through all of these reports it seems to me that:

1. It is beneficial to volunteer 1-2 hours/week annually.
2. Like anything, don’t over do it.
3. If you are doing volunteering work in a challenging, or depressing environment, it is important to receive proper training and support to process the experience.

What do you think? Is volunteering good for your health?

Flickr photo credit: Ocean Beach Oil Spill Clean-up uploaded by tomnono