Volunteers are healthier than other people

March 13, 2017 Mike Francis

People who volunteer their time at least once every six months are significantly healthier than people who don’t, according to researchers at Ghent University in Ghent, Belgium.

What isn’t clear yet, they say, is why.

In the study of health records of more than 40,000 European citizens, researchers suggested a variety of reasons that could explain the pronounced differences in self-reported health between people who volunteer and those who don’t.

For example, they say:

  • Volunteering may promote self-esteem and social integration.
  • Volunteering may increase physical and cognitive activity, which protects against both physical and mental decline.
  • People who volunteer may benefit from the release of “caregiving-related hormones,” including oxytocin and progesterone, which help regulate stress and inflammation.
  • People who volunteer may be wealthier than those who don’t, and higher incomes are associated with better health.

The health difference is substantial

People who volunteer are as healthy as non-volunteers who are five years younger, the researchers explained.

“This association is comparable in size to the health gains of being a man, being five years younger or being a native” compared to being a migrant, said Ghent University researcher Jens Detollenaere.

Researchers examined records from the European Social Survey conducted in 2012 and 2013. Respondents reported their own assessments of how healthy they were in response to the question, “How is your health in general?” They were asked to choose from among five responses ranging from “very bad” to “very good.”

Nevertheless, the relationship between better health and volunteerism was clear and unmistakable, even after researchers factored in other circumstances – age, gender, education level, migrant status, country of origin and religiosity – related to people’s healthiness.

Study about the health benefits of volunteering

Many researchers have examined the ways volunteering is linked to well-being. Among them:

A 2015 British study found that able-bodied people who volunteer live longer than those who don’t.
A 2016 study, also out of Great Britain, discusses the ways student volunteers benefit from volunteering and what motivates them.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation examines the ways that disabled people can find meaningful and appropriate volunteer opportunities.

Many employers, including Providence, encourage their employees to volunteer their time to worthwhile organizations. We have an internal site that lists many opportunities to give back to the community. Employees are invited to sign up.

America’s Charities, which promotes workplace volunteerism, says an employee volunteer program can save employers up to $6,000 per employee because it:

  • Reduces turnover
  • Keeps employees engaged
  • Provides recognition for volunteers and the employer

“Investing in employee volunteer and skills-giving programs is good business sense,” America’s Charities says.

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