The Health Benefits of Volunteering: Good for the Soul

The Health Benefits of Volunteering: Good for the Soul

Volunteering: More Than Just an Act of Charity

As Jaxon, I've always been inspired by the notion that giving does more for the giver than the receiver. I recently discovered that this age-old proverb isn't just a lesson in morality; it's rooted in science. That simple volunteer work you do across Sydney, at the local animal shelter, soup kitchen, or even in a foreign country can do wonders for you physically and mentally. This is not an advertisement for becoming a monk, but more a gentle nudge towards the holistic health benefits volunteering serves up on a silver platter.

Mental Health: The Joy of Volunteering

How many times have you heard phrases like “I feel great after volunteering” or “it warms my heart to help others”? Probably more than a few times. These feelings aren’t just fleeting moments of joy, they do have a profound impact on mental health. A review of 40 studies from BMC Public Health shows that volunteering significantly reduces depression and increases overall wellbeing and life satisfaction.

Why is that so? When we come to the aid of others, our brain releases the feel-good chemical known as dopamine. This chemical is responsible for those warm, fuzzy feelings we get after we’ve done something good for someone else. As a therapist once told me, volunteering helps us shift our focus away from ourselves and our problems to others and their challenges. It's like having a natural antidepressant - pretty cool, right?

The Serotonin Effect

Not only does volunteering increase pleasure-inducing dopamine, but it also releases serotonin, a hormone and neurotransmitter which contributes to feelings of well-being and happiness. Scientists have dubbed serotonin the "happiness hormone". So, picture every act of volunteering as your own personal joy-fest.

I recall the first time I volunteered at a local soup kitchen here in Sydney. The clatter of dishes, the warm smiles, the fragrant and steamy food, the heartfelt thank-yous. More than the smell of cooked pasta, the air was thick with a sense of solidarity and gratitude. And I remember grinning from ear to ear, feeling a high that no amount of retail therapy could match! There it was, my personal torrent of dopamine and serotonin - a healthy mind bath, you may say.

Physical Health: The Ripple Effect

If you thought that volunteering was a great mental workout, wait until you hear about the benefits to your physical health! Surprise, surprise - doing good does good for your body as well. Research even supports this. One study found that volunteers have a lower mortality rate compared to those who do not volunteer, even after considering factors like socioeconomic status, marital status, health, and age.

One reason worth mentioning is stress reduction. Imagine the scenes I mentioned before in the soup kitchen, interacting with different people, listening to their stories, and forgetting about my own troubles. This distraction from our self-centred universe helps lower stress levels. Lower stress levels mean lower blood pressure and a healthier heart.

Furthermore, volunteering involves physical elements too. Regardless if it’s scurrying about organising food in a shelter, walking dogs from an animal rescue, or building houses in underdeveloped countries, these physical activities promote better health. I'm more of an active Jack than a couch-potato Jaxon, so this aspect aligns wonderfully with my penchant for fitness.

Community Wellness and Longevity

By this point, we can accept the fact that volunteering is good for health - mental, physical, emotional, and even spiritual. But it doesn't stop there. Volunteering can also contribute to a stronger community and better public health. After all, healthier individuals can lead to healthier societies, right?

So, volunteering doesn't just metaphorically make the world a better place. By making volunteers healthier, societies potentially spend less on health care, reduce hospital admissions, and enjoy higher productivity levels from healthier citizens. It's the proverbial win-win situation.

Perhaps, in the pursuit of a healthier world, we find the key to longevity. A study in Health Psychology found that individuals who volunteered with selfless motives had a significantly reduced risk of mortality. So, while the fountain of youth may still be a myth, the path to a longer, healthier life could simply be volunteering for the pure joy of helping others.

Tips: Finding the Right Volunteer Experience

Now, armed with this knowledge of the sublime health benefits of volunteering, you might be raring to go. But where? And how? Here are a few tips and things to consider before embarking on your volunteering journey. First things first, choose something close to your heart. Do you love animals, have a fondness for the elderly, or are you passionate about climate change? Find a cause you're genuinely passionate about, and volunteering will be joyful rather than a chore.

Next, consider your schedule. Are you ready to commit weekly, or is a monthly commitment more practical? Being clear about your availability can make the experience more enjoyable and less of a burden.

Lastly, network. Talk to people, find out what they're doing, and see what resonates with you. Sometimes, the best volunteering opportunities come from a conversation with a friend or neighbour.

The Joy That Keeps On Giving

Volunteering, as we've discovered, is the unsung hero of maintaining good health, both mentally and physically. It ticks all the right boxes, acting as a stress-buster, happiness-enhancer, community builder, and longevity-promoter. Who knew doing good could feel so good?

Recall the soup kitchen experience I shared? I still volunteer there regularly, and with each visit, my conviction strengthens. It's like a trip to a health retreat — a retreat where I become a catalyst for change and walk out fitter in mind, body, and soul. If that's not a joy that keeps on giving, I wonder what is!

So, why not boost your health by extending a helping hand to others? You never know, like me, you might find your salvation in a soup kitchen, an animal shelter, a beach cleanup drive. Happy volunteering to you!

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