Here’s the latest on the health benefits of lending a helping hand in your community: volunteering can improve your mental health and lengthen your life. A research team from the U.K.’s University of Exeter Medical School combined data from 40 scientific studies to conclude that volunteering is good for you, but they note that the question of whether volunteering is actually the cause of increased health and longevity has not been answered. Some of the studies reviewed by the Exeter team show a 20 percent reduction in all-cause mortality among volunteers compared to non-volunteers. Other health benefits reported by the volunteers who participated in the studies reviewed include lower levels of depression, enhanced well-being and higher ratings of life satisfaction. Nonprofessionals in the various studies claimed that their motives for volunteering were to give something back to their communities or help an organization that has helped them, but the researchers wrote that volunteering can also be used to gain work experience or to widen social circles. More research is needed to establish that the health benefits associated with volunteering actually stem from the practice of volunteering, the investigators said. Their study was published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.
Suzanne H Richards et al, “Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers.” BMC Public Health, 2013