Good health involves a lot more than checkups and personal care habits, and a new national study found volunteer work can be a big boon, improving physical, mental and emotional health.
According to the 2013 Health and Volunteering Study conducted by Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group, doing good for others is good for you. Better yet, the benefits of volunteering can be enjoyed by members of any age group, regardless of chronic health conditions. In fact, roughly a quarter of the participants said volunteering helped them manage a chronic illness.
RESULTS AT A GLANCE:
76% reported feeling physically healthier
78% report lower stress levels
80% feel more in control of their personal health
94% say volunteering improved their mood
In a practical sense, volunteer work also has benefits for physicians because volunteers are more likely to actively seek out information about their health and discuss their research with a doctor more frequently.
MENTAL, EMOTIONAL BENEFITS
The study found a strong connection between volunteering and improved mental and emotional health. Volunteers were found to have better personal scores on nine well-established measures of emotional well-being, including the following:
- Capacity for rich, interpersonal relationships
- Satisfaction with life
- Self esteem
Stress takes a physical, mental and emotional toll on many Americans, but the study concluded volunteering can help manage stress. The research found volunteers are more likely to report feeling calm and peaceful while also reporting high energy levels than those who do not.
Furthermore, a full 96 percent of those who volunteered in the past 12 months say the activity helped enrich their sense of purpose in life and also taught them valuable things about themselves, their communities, and the world at large.
Socially, most participants also reported making new friendships through volunteer work.
EMPLOYER, EMPLOYEE BENEFITS
The study also found that employers play a critical role in engaging and encouraging volunteerism, which has clear benefits for communities as well as companies and their employees.
Nearly all participants, 95 percent, said volunteer work helped them believe they are making their community a better place. Employers that encourage and facilitate volunteerism among staff also saw increased appreciation from employees and the communities they operate in.
In terms of work performance, 87 percent who volunteered said they developed teamwork and social skills in the process, and 81 percent of employed volunteers said their relationships with colleagues were strengthened.
The study involved a range of adults -- young and old, in good health and in poor health -- from across the country. Researchers say older individuals and those suffering from multiple chronic conditions also felt better after participating.
A total of 3,351 adults were surveyed by Harris Interactive, an international leader in population research, both online and by telephone between Feb. 9 and March 18, 2013.