Help others, help yourself
Around 15 million people in the UK volunteer once a month, according to the UK Civil Society Almanac. And as well as giving back to society, it seems that doing something to benefit others can help your health too.
Volunteering can be anything from conservation work, becoming a school governor, befriending a vulnerable person to working in a charity shop – or thousands of other helpful activities.
Aged “77 years young”, Gitta from Lewisham in London has been volunteering for the Metropolitan Police in an administrative capacity for the last eight years and says she has enjoyed “a level of recognition of her efforts never before experienced in her working life”.
A former operating theatre sister, Gitta was named volunteer of the year at the 2016 Commissioner's Excellence in Total Policing Awards.
“Having led an active life the offer of new social contacts, combined with something worthwhile to occupy my mind and acquiring new skills at a time and responsibility-involvement level I was able to choose, was irresistible,” Gitta says of why volunteering appealed to her. “The benefits to me have become more and more obvious. I'm involved, stimulated, and have made new friends with similar interests and a great sense of humour.”
Gitta is not alone in feeling the benefits of volunteering. Studies have shown that spending time, unpaid, doing something to benefit others or the environment can, in many cases, be good for your health.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the USA* showed that adults aged 50+ who volunteer are less likely to develop high blood pressure, which is linked to heart disease and stroke.
Additionally, a review by Volunteering England** found that among the positive health impacts on many volunteers are improved quality of life, better social support and interaction, plus a higher sense of purpose and self-esteem.
The same review concluded that for many, volunteering reduces the incidence of depression, stress, hospitalisation, pain and psychological distress.
Gitta is unequivocal about the benefits and says that volunteering has given her “a high level of fulfilment and a certain level of pride at still being a useful member of society”.
For more information on volunteering visit volunteering.org.uk or do-it.org.uk
- **Voluntary Action: The Journal of the Institute for Volunteering Research Volume: 8 Number: 2 Volunteering in later life: is it good for your health? © Institute for Volunteering Research 2006