Volunteers earn benefits in terms of happiness, health

IRON MOUNTAIN — Volunteering often is its own reward. Helping others can be just as beneficial for the people doing the helping as it is for the people being helped.

Though it sometimes can be difficult to find time to volunteer, a close look at some of the various health benefits of volunteering may compel adults and children alike to step forward more often.

Volunteering and happiness

Veteran volunteers may have long suspected they’re happier when they volunteer, and research suggests that’s true. A study from researchers at the London School of Economics that was published in the journal Social Science and Medicine found the more people volunteered, the happier they were.

The researchers compared people who never volunteered to people who did, finding the odds of being “very happy” rose by 7 percent among people who volunteered monthly. Those odds increased by 12 percent among people who volunteered every two to four weeks.

Volunteering and mental health

Psychologists have long known that social interaction can improve mental health. Psychology Today notes that interacting with others decreases feelings of depression while increasing feelings of well-being.

Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, exposing volunteers to people with shared interests. That can be especially valuable to people who are new to a community, helping them to avoid feelings of loneliness after moving to an area where they have no pre-existing social network.

Volunteering and long-term health

Volunteering that requires social interaction can produce long-term health benefits that can have a profound impact on quality of life as men and women age. A recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease focused on participants without dementia who were involved in a highly interactive discussion group. Researchers compared those participants to others who participated in tai chi or walking or were part of a control group that did not receive any interventions. The former group exhibited improved cognitive function, and MRIs indicated they increased their brain volumes after being involved in the discussion group. Larger brain volume has been linked to a lower risk of dementia.

Many volunteering opportunities require routine interaction with others, potentially providing significant, long-term health benefits as a result.

While volunteering is a selfless act, volunteers may be benefitting in ways that can improve their lives in both the short- and long-term.