Volunteers are the unsung heroes that improve the quality of life in our community in immeasurable ways. Community Thread was founded on the principal of volunteer engagement to serve unmet needs, and 50 years later that concept is still alive and well thanks to thousands of generous volunteers who make a difference in the lives of others. If you know someone who volunteers, or you are a volunteer, many thanks for your contribution to improving our community.

Volunteers help with the core intention of serving others. And in the process of giving back, volunteers benefit themselves as well. Research shows that older adults who volunteer are conferred health benefits, such as:

• decreased risk of depression. Volunteering leads to lower rates of depression, especially for individuals 65 and older. Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests — both of which have been shown to decrease depression.

• having a sense of purpose while utilizing valuable skills. Volunteers perform critical roles in assisting those in our community who need a helping hand. At Community Thread, thanks to volunteers, older adults and people with disabilities are given transportation to medical appointments and have chores performed in their homes. This work helps others remain independent, while giving the volunteer a sense of purpose.

• staying physically and mentally active. According to one study, volunteers report better physical health than do non-volunteers. Besides the physical activity of getting out of the house, volunteering forces you outside of your comfort zone. Whether it is meeting and working with new people, or mastering a new skill, volunteering helps you grow as a person. According to University of Minnesota psychologist Mark Snyder, “people who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness.” Researchers at the London School of Economics claim that volunteering creates the happiness effect: people were 7% more likely to say they felt “very happy” if they volunteered monthly, 12% if twice a month, and 16% if they volunteered weekly.

• keeping connected to the community. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people who share common interests. Dedicating your time as a volunteer also helps you expand your network and practice social skills with others. It is especially beneficial to older people and new retirees who need a way to maintain a social network as they age.

• re-prioritizing your time and your worth. Research out of Harvard found that if you volunteer your time you’ll feel like you have more of it since you are using it to accomplish something of value. Volunteering makes you feel more capable, confident, and useful. Also, when you care about others, it helps you re-evaluate how you care about yourself. Volunteer your time working towards something, and you will prioritize your self-care and worth.

The upshot is that volunteering may help you live longer. Data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health.

And for you guys out there: according to Men’s Fitness magazine, researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK reviewed 40 studies and found those who gave up their time were 22 percent less likely to die. In fact, even when external factors like medical history and social support network were taken into consideration, volunteering reduced the risk of death by 25 percent, according to a study in Psychology and Aging.

So if you have some extra time on your hands, call the Volunteer Center at Community Thread to learn about opportunities to give back while benefiting your health and happiness. And if you already volunteer, give yourself a big hug during National Volunteer Week, April 15 – 22. A hug is good for your health too!

By: Sally Anderson