smiling sports team grabbing tee shirts

Some people say that no act of kindness is truly altruistic: Even those who are being generous receive the benefit of feeling positive about their actions. It may sound cynical, but there's truth to the idea that helping others can be a way of helping yourself. Although getting involved in your community requires an investment of your time and energy, it can also boost your sense of wellbeing. In turn, when you feel more positive, you also feel less stressed.

In fact, current research supports the idea that giving back to your community can increase your personal health. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) is a federal agency that engages over five million Americans in volunteer service. According to research compiled by CNCS, studies show that volunteering provides those who participate with individual health and social benefits.

Why Volunteer?
In the past twenty years, more and more research has shown that people who volunteer have lower rates of depression and mortality than people who don't volunteer. This may be because volunteering allows us to relieve feelings of stress by connecting with others and strengthening our communities.

In CNCS's report The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, the organization shares findings that show older volunteers are even more likely to benefit from volunteering than other age groups. Researchers theorize that older volunteers may benefit more because community involvement gives them a sense of purpose.

What's more, studies also suggest that those who spend the most time volunteering--up to 100 hours each year--are the most likely to enjoy health benefits from their efforts.

What Can You Do?
There's no shortage of ways to help out your community by volunteering. No matter your age, ability, or amount of time available, there's a volunteer opportunity that's right for you:

  • Start local. While you may equate volunteering with global relief efforts far from home, you'll find plenty of organizations that need help right in your own backyard. Look for volunteer opportunities in your area, whether within your ZIP code or in neighboring counties. Your child's school, your community center, or local parks are great places to offer your skills.
  • Find a need. Do you have an issue that you're passionate about? Then do something about it. If you want to help the homeless, volunteer at a local food bank or soup kitchen. If you want to make a difference with the elderly, volunteer to visit seniors in a retirement home. If you love politics, volunteer to assist your precinct on voting day. If you care about the environment, offer to participate in an organized beach clean up or tree planting day.
  • Do it virtually. If your schedule is too packed to allow for volunteering within an organization, CNCS recommends considering a "virtual" volunteer post. Virtual volunteering allows you to pitch in from your own home by using a computer. You can volunteer for organizations in different parts of the country, or even the world, without needing to travel. Data entry, writing, editing, and marketing are examples of tasks that you can do virtually.

Get the Benefits of Giving
Volunteering is a way to give back to your community, while also reducing your own stress levels. Regardless of your interests, you can find a volunteer opportunity that brings you a sense of wellbeing and personal satisfaction. Take your time to identify a volunteer position that you think you'll enjoy, and then jump in with both feet. You'll be healthier and happier for doing so.