Study finds volunteering benefits health

Sarah Hurd
Published: Tuesday, April 21, 2009

As finals week grows ever nearer, many college students are wondering what to do with themselves over the summer months. Whether we are graduating or not, the economy has had a significant effect on the number of internships and job opportunities that are available this summer.

If you still haven’t decided what your summer will bring or if you have a few months off before beginning a job, I would highly recommend seeking out a volunteer position to fill your time.

Volunteering is a great way to enhance your résumé and can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment, but it can also improve your health.

A recent study conducted in 2007 by the Corporation for National and Community Service shows that giving your time to a cause can improve physical and mental well-being.

The study reported that those who volunteer their time actually lower their mortality and have fewer incidences of depression later in life. It makes sense, though; we all want our lives to have meaning and purpose. By providing others with help and support, we feel like we have actually made a difference.

The study also found a threshold for optimal health benefits. People who volunteered about 100 hours per year — that’s only about two hours per week — had the greatest outcomes. Volunteering for considerably less time decreases the amount of health gains, while volunteering more than 100 hours does not seem to give any additional boost.

So, how exactly does this work? It seems the health benefits come from a greater sense of life satisfaction. Volunteering also provides meaningful connections with other people, which can enhance a person’s social network.

According to the CNCS, “Volunteer activities can strengthen the social ties that protect individuals from isolation during difficult times, while the experience of helping others leads to a sense of greater self-worth and trust.”

The study didn’t include any research on the type of service that should be done, but I would guess that any kind of service would be significant. Whether you are working at a hospital, serving in a food kitchen or simply lending your ear to someone who needs a listener, you can be improving the lives of others.

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Albert Schweitzer once said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know. The only ones among you who will be truly happy will be those who have sought and found how to serve.”

There are many reasons to volunteer. Whatever your reason, try it out. If it’s something you’re unsure about, grab a friend and serve together. Make serving others a life-long habit. Give of what you have; learn something new. It’s a win-win situation.

Sarah is a senior in pre-physical therapy and kinesiology. Please send comments to

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