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Ask any dedicated volunteer and they’ll tell you they do what they do because it feels good, because it feels like they’re making a difference. Turns out, there may be more reasons to feel good about volunteering. According to a new study, volunteering may improve mental health and increase longevity.
The study was recently published in BMC Public Health by a team of researchers, headed by Dr. Suzanna Richards, from the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK. They reviewed some 40 academic papers from the past 20 years that studied the link between volunteering and health.
Richards and her team found that volunteering is associated with lower depression and increased well-being and life satisfaction. Volunteers were also found to be a fifth less likely to die than the average non-volunteering individual within the next four to seven years, according to NY Daily News.
“Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health, but more work is needed to establish whether volunteering is actually the cause. It is still unclear whether biological and cultural factors and social resources that are often associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place,” said Richards.
Nonetheless, volunteering can be good for people’s health. Dr. Sara Konrath of Everyday Health suggests that this is because any activity is a “good activity” since it forces people to become more physically active. Moreover, it allows us to develop social connections and bond and care for one another thanks to the release of a hormone called oxytocin during such interactions. Additionally, volunteering provides many of us with a sense of happiness and leading a happier life has repeatedly been proven to increase longevity and improve health.
Yet volunteering too much to the point where it becomes a burdensome habit can have the opposite effect, reports Science Daily.
It seems then that a balance is key, as is the case with any activity, as well as more data to discover if the study’s results change when different groups are studied.
“The challenge now is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take up volunteering, and then to measure whether improvements arise for them,” Richards said.
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