Making wellness a top priority has been proven to give you a competitive advantage at work. But good health goes beyond exercising, a balanced diet and catching enough shut-eye on a regular basis. If you really want to thrive in your professional and personal life, consider adding altruism to that mix. Research has shown that being of service to others can help you live longer, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and increase your well-being. Here’s more scoop on the health benefits of giving back and how to find the best volunteerism experiences for you.
Nearly 25% of the U.S. population volunteers their time annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For some, it is a one-time experience while others give back to multiple organizations each week. It turns out my fellow Gen Xer’s lead that volunteering charge at a rate of 28.9%, followed by Baby Boomers at 25.7% and Millennials at 21.9%. As people get older they tend to become more interested in serving others and creating a positive legacy, but those statistics are shifting as an increasing number of socially-conscious Millennials volunteer each year.
Science now substantiates that being of service is good for your body as well as your mind. This article cites a study from Carnegie Mellon University, which found that adults over age 50 who volunteered at least 200 hours a year were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers; the author also notes that other studies report a health benefit from volunteering for as little as half that time. An additional Harvard article notes that volunteering is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes. They mention the Baltimore Experience Corp Study, which documented physical, social, and cognitive improvements in volunteers over age 50 who are helping public school students that struggle with reading. Compared to a control group, researchers found these volunteers tended to walk more, be less depressed and have better thinking skills. Ready to get started? Here are three ways to find service opportunities that fit your needs:
1. Choose something that matters to you personally.
I’ve enjoyed giving back to some terrific organizations over the years. Back in high school, I volunteered to hug Special Olympics athletes crossing the finish line at a track and field event. Through programs at work, I’ve helped build a fully accessible Habitat for Humanity House and sorted food donations at the Atlanta Community Food Bank. I raised money for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event in honor of my dad, who died of the disease. My most meaningful experiences, though, have always involved mentorship – giving advice, helping people overcome obstacles and activate their full potential. So that’s what I gravitate towards these days in terms of service.
2. Test out experiences.
Know you want to give back, but not sure how that takes shape and form? Check out organizations like Volunteer Match and AARP’s Create the Good, which helps people match their interests to inspiring causes. With more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies offering corporate social responsibility initiatives, your workplace may offer a variety of organized outreach events that allow you to try different experiences too. It is a great way to test drive your service interests and determine what fits without making a long-term commitment.
3. Be realistic about your time.
Before going all-in with a volunteer commitment, determine how much time you have available. If you can barely breath between work, family and social commitments, start slow. Otherwise, those great intentions can lead to burnout, resentment or disappointing a non-profit that selected you for a volunteer role you cannot uphold. If your calendar is wide open and your heart would love to fill it with an on-going charitable commitment, go for it! The key is to plan your time wisely.
What volunteer opportunities have been most meaningful to you? How has being of service to others impacted your mental, physical or emotional well-being?