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Volunteering is good for your health

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The Legacy of Caring Casseroles to Go Committee volunteers were all smiles after another sellout venture.

 

Every community offers many opportunities to volunteer. Whether it’s the Boys and Girls Clubs, schools, health facilities, animal rescue centers, or other local programs and events, communities are always in search of volunteers. Often, those who volunteer say they get more from volunteering than they put into the experience. Research suggests that could well be the case.

A national survey of 3,351 adults commissioned by the United Health Group found that the overwhelming majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience. People who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering had made them feel healthier (76%), improved their mood (94%), lowered their stress levels (78%), and enriched their sense of purpose in life (96%). Volunteers also reported feeling a stronger connection to their communities.

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BCAR volunteers are dedicated to caring for the guests until they find their forever families

As for volunteers’ physical health, eighty percent of the volunteers felt like they had control over their health and a quarter reported that volunteer work helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them active and taking their minds off their problems. Compared to non-volunteers, volunteers reported better emotional well-being including personal independence, capacity for rich interpersonal relationships and overall satisfaction with life.

An article in the Harvard Health Blog cites a study by Carnegie Mellon University that in addition to volunteers feeling less depressed and lonely than non-volunteers, they may also live longer. The study found that adults over fifty years of age who volunteer two hundred hours per year are less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers which certainly contributes to longevity.

The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, a publication commissioned by the Corporation for National and Community Service, confirms the reward of “helper’s high,” increased trust in others, and increased social and political participation that result from volunteering. Although volunteering leads to better health at all ages, older volunteers are the most likely to receive physical and mental health benefits from their volunteer activities. Older volunteers have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer. Volunteer activities offer older volunteers who are not earning wages or raising children a social network, a mechanism to reduce stress and a sense of purpose and life satisfaction.

Numerous opportunities to volunteer are available in local communities. In Big Canoe, for example, volunteers at the community-supported Big Canoe Animal Rescue (BCAR) have provided care and adoption services to dogs and cats for over twenty years. Former CEOs, health professionals and government workers who volunteer have “poop patrol” in their “job descriptions."

The Big Canoe Wellness Collaborative, a non-profit, all-volunteer group, was created to provide non-emergency and non-medical wellness services at no cost to the residents of Big Canoe. Programs include referrals (BC Info), meals (BC Meals), transportation (BC Rides), caregiver relief/respite services (BC Visits) and healthy living programs (BC Healthy Living).

For those in search of volunteer experiences, Leadership Big Canoe sponsors an annual Volunteer Fair to encourage residents to investigate opportunities to volunteer at organizations in Dawson and Pickens counties, as well as Big Canoe. This year the event is tentatively scheduled for April 13.

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Wellness Collaborative volunteers assist neighbors to “Age in Place” by providing an array of services.

References

Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, Washington, DC 2007.

United Health Care Group, Doing good is good for you, 2013. (https://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/~/media/UHG/PDF/2013/UNH-Health-Volunteering-Study.ashx)

Watson, Stephanie. “Volunteering may be good for body and mind” Harvard Health Blog. October 29, 2015.

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