Resolve to Help, and Boost Your Health, Too
MADISON - Contemplating a New Year's resolution to improve your health?
Consider this: people who volunteer at a charity or non-profit organization get a "twofer": they help others while boosting their own health.
According to research by the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteers as a group live longer and feel better physically and mentally than do non-volunteers. The review also suggests people who participate in volunteer activity at a younger age suffer from fewer health issues in their later years, and those older than 65 seem to gain a new lease on life by performing good deeds.
"Volunteerism seems to work primarily by enhancing life satisfaction and a sense of meaning and purpose," says Dr. Adam Rindfleisch, an integrative-medicine practitioner and assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "It may also reduce chronic pain. I often suggest people with fibromyalgia and depression get involved in a volunteer activity."
Rindfleisch says while it's hard to determine scientifically if volunteering promotes better health, he has seen the benefits in his patients who do volunteer. He adds it doesn't matter if volunteer work is performed at a hospital, school, animal shelter or soup kitchen: participants are bound to experience positive results.
"It is not clear to me that any one type of volunteering makes a difference, although I believe those activities leading to the deepest connections with others are the most powerful," he says. "My sense is that it is like cardiovascular exercise: it isn't the specific form that matters, but rather that you do it in the first place."
Rindfleisch suggests the good feelings derived from volunteerism could, for some people, potentially reduce dependence on medication prescribed for pain and emotional difficulties.
"I have not seen data as far as changes in medication use (due to improved health from volunteering)," he says. "It is possible to say, though, that anything that leads to enhanced life satisfaction is likely to decrease reliance on other interventions, especially where pain and low mood are concerned."
Date Published: 12/03/2009