We all know volunteering can help our emotional well-being, but it turns out that doing good in your community could actually be doing even more good for your heart health.
A recent study from researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people who volunteered were more likely to be in better physical health and take better care of themselves. Regular volunteers were less likely to have high blood pressure and reported higher levels of physical activity and psychological well-being. Volunteers were also significantly more likely to seek out preventative healthcare services, making them 47 percent more likely to get cholesterol checks and 30 percent more likely to get a flu shot than people who didn’t volunteer.
However, in most cases, it likely wasn’t the actual work of volunteering that contributed to better health—instead, researchers believe the correlation is a result of a greater sense of purpose and connection. As Eric S. Kim, co-author of the study, explains in this article, “When you’re more connected to your community, it’s easier to get info on things like how to find the best deals on fresh vegetables, or where to get a free flu shot. People also provide one another emotional support.”
The sense of fulfillment volunteering can provide can also help combat feelings of depression, anger and stress—all of which can hurt your health if they persist long-term.
If you’re interested in volunteering to benefit both your health and your community, but are unsure where to start, read on for a few tips.
Ask yourself if you have any unique skills to offer
While this isn’t a prerequisite to volunteering, it can help you find your niche. For instance, if you have experience with a certain sport, you could volunteer with a youth team. Or, if you specialize in a specific subject, you could offer tutoring services.
Determine where there’s a need in your community
Take some time to figure out if your community has a specific need you can help address. Perhaps there’s a persistent littering problem and you can help clean up roadsides. Or maybe you live near an overcrowded animal shelter that could benefit from a volunteer dog walker.
Search for existing opportunities in the newspaper and online
While many organizations would be thrilled to get an unprompted offer to volunteer, there are also many others that have likely already put out the call for volunteers. Check your local newspaper, Google “volunteer opportunities in ______” or check out the organizations listed below: