To volunteer is to give your time and labor to community service without getting paid in return.
You may volunteer at your town’s homeless shelter or for big organizations, such as the Peace Corps.
You may do it because you want to help people, or because volunteering experience looks good in college and job applications.
In any case, volunteering is an act of kindness that benefits everyone involved.
Yeap, that’s right. Studies suggest that when you’re volunteering, you’re not JUST giving.
In fact, volunteering has many health benefits. Improving physical and mental health and providing a sense of purpose are two of many.
Want to learn about the entire range of volunteering health benefits? This article is for you!
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- 10 Surprising Volunteering Health Benefits (in Body and Mind)
- 5 Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Volunteering Activities
- How to Find a Volunteering Job - 15 Best Websites
So let’s dive right in!
10 Surprising Volunteering Health Benefits (for Body and Mind)
Aristotle said, “the essence of life is to serve others and do good.”
That was back in ancient Greece.
To this day, one out of four Americans volunteer, and two out of three help their neighbors. And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority are adults between the ages 35 and 54.
But, in addition to serving the community, volunteers - sometimes, unknowingly - are also serving their physical and mental health.
Wondering what these volunteering health benefits are exactly? Let us walk you through them, starting with:
#1. Encourages Physical Activity
Most types of volunteer work involve some physical activity, which promotes good health.
Whether you’re handing out flyers on the street or organizing an event for your town’s retirement home, you’re sure to be on the move. This is bound to increase your physical well-being.
And while it’s true that different volunteering jobs need varying levels of activity, the bottom line remains the same—your body will appreciate it. Studies show that volunteers are as healthy as 5-years younger non-volunteers.
Yeap. It seems that adding years to your life is an actual volunteering health benefit.
#2. Lowers Blood Pressure
Especially in older adults, high blood pressure is a health problem that can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Yet, one of the health benefits of volunteering is that it decreases blood pressure.
Specifically, a study found that adults over 50 volunteering more than 200 hours each year are 40% less likely to have high blood pressure.
#3. Improves Heart Health
The physical health benefits of volunteering often work like a domino effect in the body.
Take for example how it keeps your heart healthy. As we said, volunteering promotes physical activity and helps keep your blood pressure low. So, it comes as no surprise that it helps your heart’s health too, as the three are connected.
And this health benefit isn’t limited to adults, one study showed. Apparently, teenagers who spent one hour a week volunteering in an after-school program had lower cholesterol and inflammation levels. Meaning, they enjoy a healthier life than their peers.
#4. Reduces Depression and Stress
Besides all the physical benefits, volunteering comes with feelings of fulfillment. They include connecting with your community, helping those in need, and contributing to a cause.
Based on this, a study found that regular volunteers - especially older ones - have lower rates of depression. Another study found that volunteering can help reduce depression levels in patients suffering from chronic pain.
Additionally, volunteering may also reduce stress. It can be through any activity that makes you happy and gives your day meaning - be it the relationships you create as a volunteer at a children’s hospital or even the time you spend at an animal shelter.
#5. Boosts Happiness
According to studies that have measured our hormones and brain activity, happiness is one of the key benefits of volunteering. That’s because being helpful to others brings you pleasure and makes you feel rewarded.
For most of us, the way it works is this: the more we give, the happier we feel. So, make the most of this by volunteering for a cause you find meaningful.
#6. Increases Self-Confidence
For one, doing something selfless for the community provides a sense of accomplishment. Also, calling yourself a volunteer can give you a sense of positive identity and pride that can help you feel good about yourself.
Also, as a volunteer, you will need to express yourself, talk to others, work in teams, or even take the lead in certain situations. The more you practice doing each of these things (even if you’re not naturally good at them), the more your confidence will increase.
#7. Provides a sense of purpose
People often say their lives lack a “sense of purpose” as they go through their routines.
Well, doing volunteer work keeps you physically and mentally stimulated, helps you take your mind off worries, and adds something new and meaningful to your life.
Especially older adults - including those who have retired and are feeling lost or bored - can gain new perspectives when they start helping others.
Ultimately, despite your age or life stage, supporting a cause that you believe in allows you to feel connected to something bigger than yourself.
#8. Prevents Loneliness and Isolation
Preventing loneliness and social isolation is another major volunteering health benefit.
This comes from the meaningful connections you get to make when you volunteer. Whether it’s your fellow volunteers, the people you’re helping, or the volunteer organizers, building a connection is essential to volunteering right. Filling your time this way can prevent loneliness.
But, most importantly, volunteering enables you to meet like-minded people. For example, if you are a volunteer at an animal shelter, you’ll meet others who share your love for animals. This is extremely important for older adults who have a harder time meeting new people as they age.
#9. Encourages Learning
The more we age, the harder it becomes to memorize new information and learn things. Think, for example, how easy it is for younger children to learn new languages as opposed to adults. And that goes with pretty much anything.
That’s why it’s important to constantly exercise our brains through activities that stimulate learning.
In this regard, volunteering is a great way to encourage learning. That’s because the majority of volunteering activities involve exchanging information and skills. When you spend some time learning and passing along those skills and information, you keep your memory sharp and mind in shape.
#10. Reduces Mortality Rate
Although there’s no scientific proof that volunteering work can make the difference between a short life and a long one, all volunteering health benefits contribute to a longer life.
For example, existing studies have found that volunteers are more likely to use preventive health care services. 47% are more likely to receive cholesterol tests, 30% more likely to get flu shots, and 53% more likely to receive mammograms or x-rays. This, in turn, supports the theory that volunteering leads to a longer, healthier life down the line.
5 Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Volunteering Activities
To enjoy the health benefits of volunteering, it’s important to find the right fit for you. By “right fit,” we mean a volunteering opportunity that meets your skills, passions, and even schedule!
For example, if volunteering at an animal shelter is your only option at a given time but you’re terrified of dogs, you’d probably end up being more stressed than stress-free as a volunteer there.
So, consider the following tips when you’re deciding where to volunteer:
- Understand the expectations. Whether you’re volunteering locally or for a big organization, it’s important that you genuinely support the cause and understand the time commitment required. Thus, it’s advisable to not overcommit from the start - that way, you can control your timetable and change your volunteering focus if needed.
- Ask questions. They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question and we couldn’t agree more. You want to be sure that your volunteering position matches your skills, goals, and even the hours you want to put in. Addressing these matters with volunteering organizers or coordinators will ensure that you’re exactly where you want to be.
- Choose carefully before volunteering abroad. It’s one thing to volunteer for an organization where you live and another to hop on a plane and fly off to another continent. You might not have the same chance to be flexible with your position once you’re there, so make sure to choose carefully before deciding. Not to mention that some volunteering organizations abroad will give you locals’ jobs (which they desperately need), doing more harm than good.
- Don’t be scared to make a change. If you feel like your position isn’t the right fit for you, that you’re not creating any meaningful connections, or that you’re not contributing to the right cause, don’t be afraid to ask for a different position or even a different organization.
- Have fun. The best volunteer experiences are those that benefit all parties involved - the volunteers, the organization, and the people you’re helping. If you’re not enjoying yourself, or if you feel more isolated and lonely after you start volunteering, ask yourself why and try to pinpoint the problem. That’s the only way you can really take advantage of volunteering health benefits.
How to Find a Volunteering Job - 15 Best Websites
Are you convinced that a volunteer job is exactly what you need right now?
We second that! That’s why we created this list of the top 15 volunteering websites that offer worldwide opportunities:
- VolunteerMatch - Type your location at the search bar and see all the volunteering opportunities near you.
- JustServe - With this website, you find an opportunity, sign up with an account and show up the day of the event.
- DoSomething - Do Something empowers young people to get involved in their community and fight for social change. You can get involved no matter where you live!
- HabitatForHumanity - If you’re skilled in construction or interested in interior design, check out this organization that builds houses for underprivileged people in the US and around the world.
- AARP Create the Good - AARP helps Americans aged 50 or older feel comfortable during their aging.
- Red Cross - With the Red Cross, you can choose from a variety of roles to provide emergency services and disaster relief to those affected by natural disasters.
- Feeding America - You can connect with your local food bank through Feeding America and volunteer for a variety of roles, including small ones like sorting through and stocking food.
- GivePulse - GivePulse is an organization that combines educational activities with volunteering. A yoga instructor or caretaker for children with special needs are just two of many choices.
- United Way - United Way connects you with a wide range of opportunities that involve supporting children, gardening, construction, therapy, or disaster services.
- Engage - Engage uses your location to find the best opportunities near you through keywords and filters such as remote projects, issue areas, and skills required.
- All For Good - All For Good provides a single database for many organizations posting opportunities online based on location.
- AmeriCorps - AmeriCorps volunteers are involved in addressing community needs like mentoring youth, fighting poverty, and disaster preparation, among others.
- DonorsChoose - DonorChoose.org is an organization looking to help the US public education system by donating and funding classroom projects.
- Global Volunteers - Half the volunteers at Global Volunteers are 55+, while 30+ are 65+. The website is perfect for seniors looking for new experiences and adventures. After all, opportunities include traveling abroad or the US and volunteering 5 times a week.
- Global Aware - Global Aware is suited for those looking for an adventure abroad, who can donate a minimum contribution fee to cover program fees.
How to Land a Volunteer Job
Some volunteering jobs require you to submit a standard job application with a resume and cover letter. E.g. volunteering programs abroad such as United Nations or the Red Cross are a bit more selective on who they take on as volunteers.
Looking for a volunteering gig that requires a standard job application? Here are a bunch of resources to help you with that:
- Free Resume Builder. Novoresume’s resume builder helps you create attention-grabbing and well-designed resumes in the blink of an eye. The software is user-friendly and comes with instructions to guide you every step of the way.
- How to Write a Volunteer Resume. It doesn’t matter if you’re applying for the job of your dreams or a volunteer opportunity - if you are required to submit a resume, it better be perfect. This guide on how to make a volunteer resume is tailored specifically to your needs.
- How to Write a Cover Letter in 2023 | Beginner’s Guide. Many volunteer positions require a cover letter with your resume. Use this chance to show your motivation and passion for volunteering and to express yourself more in-depth than in your resume. This article can show you just how to do that!
- 35+ Interview Questions and Answers [Full List]. Oftentimes, interviewers ask the same questions regardless of whether you’re applying for a job or a volunteer position. Prepare yourself by checking out the most common interview questions and how to best answer them.
- How to List Volunteer Experience On a Resume [W/ Examples]. If you already have some volunteering experience, you should include it in your resume. Read our article to learn how to do it right.
- 2023 Guide to Nonprofit Jobs and Careers [Complete Guide]. Want to turn your volunteering experience into a career? Get a job in an NGO! Our guide will teach you all you need to know to make that happen.
And that’s a wrap! By now, you should be more than convinced of all the amazing health benefits volunteering has to offer.
Let’s go over the main points we covered for good measure:
- Volunteering has immense health benefits for both body and mind.
- Some of the most noteworthy volunteering health benefits in the body are that it improves physical activity, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens the health of your heart.
- Volunteering benefits your mental health by reducing stress and depression, encouraging learning, and reducing mortality rates.
- Make the most out of your volunteering activities by understanding the expectations, asking questions, and choosing carefully when you decide to volunteer abroad, among other things.