If you are still struggling to settle on a healthy New Year’s resolution, look no further than a simple opportunity to volunteer. Doing something good for others helps more than the greater good: volunteering can yield positive effects on your health as well.
Improved mental health is a common side effect of volunteering. Research shows that empathy and generosity increase levels of oxytocin, a neurochemical associated with trust and feelings of closeness, meaning that stress is decreased and feelings of calm are increased when helping others.
Lower stress from volunteering may also help with lower blood pressure. A 2013 study in the journal Psychology and Aging revealed that adults over 50 years old who volunteered at least 200 hours in a year (about four hours a week) were 40% less likely than non-volunteers to develop hypertension later in life. Though the researchers admit the connection between blood pressure and volunteering is unclear, the link is consistent with the stress reducing effects of being active and altruistic.
Some studies suggest that the benefits of volunteering are long lasting. Because lending a hand helps you focus on your own positive qualities, volunteers often find themselves reflecting and expressing self-affirmation. Consistently volunteering over time for different purposes and organizations helps people become more social and increase their psychological well-being.
However, your motivation to volunteer should come from within. A 2012 study from the University of Michigan concluded that those who volunteered for the purposes of making themselves feel better did not experience the same health benefits as those who volunteered for the sake of helping others.
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