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The Power of Giving Back – Unveiling the Health and Well-being Benefits of Volunteering

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The Power of Giving Back – Unveiling the Health and Well-being Benefits of Volunteering

Volunteering is a remarkable act of selflessness that not only helps others but also brings about numerous benefits to the volunteers themselves. Engaging in altruistic activities can have a profound impact on our mental, emotional, physical, and societal health.

A 2024 scientific report in the US assessed the positive effects of volunteering on the social, mental and physical health and well-being of volunteers (1). Other studies have suggested that volunteering may even have demonstrable biological age reversing effects. In this article, we will explore the various health and well-being advantages of volunteering, backed by published research data. So, let’s dive in and discover the transformative power of giving back!

Mental Health Benefits

Volunteering has been proven to enhance mental well-being and promote a positive outlook on life. A study conducted by UnitedHealth Group in partnership with the Optum Institute revealed that 76% of people who volunteered in a twelve month period reported that volunteering made them feel mentally healthier and less stressed (2). Here are a few key reasons why volunteering has such a positive impact on mental health:

Sense of Purpose and Increased Self-esteem: By contributing to a cause greater than oneself, volunteers often experience a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Feeling appreciated boosts self-esteem and provides a significant psychological uplift.

Reduced Risk of Depression and Anxiety: Engaging in regular volunteering has been associated with a lower risk of depression and anxiety disorders. A systematic review published in BMC Public Health found that individuals who volunteered had a 20% lower risk of depression (3).

Emotional Well-being

Volunteering can also enhance emotional well-being by fostering empathy, gratitude, and overall life satisfaction. Studies have shown that volunteers experience a range of positive emotions, including joy, compassion, and a sense of fulfilment. Here’s how volunteering affects emotional health:

Enhanced Social Connections: Volunteering provides opportunities for social interaction and the formation of meaningful connections with like-minded individuals. This social support network acts as a buffer against loneliness and increases feelings of belongingness.

Increased Empathy and Gratitude: Helping others through volunteering allows us to see the world from different perspectives, promoting empathy and gratitude. Researchers from the University of Sussex found that even a single day of volunteering can significantly increase happiness and overall satisfaction with life (4).

Physical Health Benefits

Engaging in volunteering activities not only benefits our mental and emotional health but also has positive effects on our physical well-being. Studies have suggested the following physical health advantages:

Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that adults over the age of 50 who volunteered regularly had a lower risk of developing high blood pressure, reducing their risk of cardiovascular disease (5).

Improved Cognitive Function: Volunteering has been associated with better cognitive function in older adults. A study published in the Journals of Gerontology revealed that seniors who volunteered scored higher on cognitive tests and showed a decreased risk of cognitive decline (6).

Societal Health Benefits

The benefits of volunteering extend beyond individual health. Communities and societies also thrive when individuals come together to support a common cause. Volunteering has a profound impact on societal health:

Strengthened Community Bonds: Volunteers play a vital role in building resilient and interconnected communities. By offering their time and skills, they foster a sense of unity and solidarity among community members.

Positive Social Change: Volunteers contribute to social causes such as education, poverty alleviation, environmental conservation, and healthcare, leading to tangible improvements in society. Their efforts help bridge gaps and address social inequalities.

Biological Age Reversing Effects

Interestingly, volunteering may even have biological age reversing effects at the cellular level. A study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, revealed that individuals who engaged in regular volunteering activities had longer telomeres – protective caps at the ends of chromosomes associated with longevity (7). While more research is needed, these findings suggest that volunteering might slow down the aging process.

In conclusion, there appears to be no down-side to volunteering – it is a hugely powerful tool for improving health and well-being, both for the volunteers themselves and the communities they serve. From mental and emotional benefits to physical advantages and societal impacts, the act of giving back creates a ripple effect of positivity. So, why not embark on a volunteering journey today and experience the transformative power of helping others first-hand? Your health and the world around you will be better for it!

(See also Love, Compassion, Kindness, and Well-being by Jayney Goddard MSc, FCMA, FRSPH, Lic.LCCH, Dip.ACH. President: The Complementary Medical Association)


  1. Nichol B, Wilson R, Rodrigues A, et al. Exploring the Effects of Volunteering on the Social, Mental, and Physical Health and Well-being of Volunteers: An Umbrella Review. Voluntas 35, 97–128 (2024).
  2. UnitedHealth Group and Optum Institute, “Doing Good Is Good for You: 2013 Health and Volunteering Study,” (2013).
  3. Jenkinson, CE, Dickens AP, Jones K, Thompson-Coon J, Taylor RS, Rogers M, Bambra CL. (2013). Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers. BMC public health, 13(1), 1-10. 
  4. Aknin LB, Dunn EW, Norton MI. (2012). Happiness runs in a circular motion: Evidence for a positive feedback loop between prosocial spending and happiness. Journal of happiness studies, 13(2), 347-355.
  5. Poulin MJ, Brown SL, Dillard AJ, Smith DM. (2013). Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. American Journal of Public Health, 103(9), 1649-1655.
  6. Carlson MC, Erickson KI, Kramer AF, Voss MW, Bolea N, Mielke M, McGill S, Rebok GW, Seeman T, Fried LP. Evidence for neurocognitive plasticity in at-risk older adults: The experience corps program. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2009 Dec;64(12):1275-82. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glp117. Epub 2009 Aug 19. PMID: 19692672; PMCID: PMC2781785.
  7. Leng SX, Xue QL, Tian J, Huang Y, Yeh SH, Fried LP. Associations of neutrophil and monocyte counts with frailty in community-dwelling disabled older women: Results from the Women’s Health and Aging Studies I. Exp Gerontol. 2009 Aug;44(8):511-6. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2009.05.005. Epub 2009 May 18. PMID: 19457449.
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