If you’ve ever volunteered or helped someone in a jam, the benefits for the beneficiary were probably only eclipsed by how good you felt about yourself — and rightly so. Now, science is connecting the dots between some real health benefits for people who help others.
Extensive research is starting to show that people who take advantage of volunteering — a timely job these days considering the recent hurricanes and other natural disasters that have occurred in recent months — see some real physical rewards, like lower blood pressure and longer life spans.
Put another way: Doing good does a body good!
Research: Volunteering can lead to a longer, more fulfilling life
The benefits are especially acute when people are spurred to help communities that they feel a connection with.
“Research suggests that these community social connections are as important for resilience to disaster is as physical material like disaster kits or medical supplies,” Ichiro Kawachi, a professor of social epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, told the New York Times. “Voluntarism is good for the health of people who receive social support, but also good for the health of people who offer their help.”
In highly influential research that dates back 10 years, the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study found that people’s overall well being — their physical as well as emotional health — drastically improved after volunteering. Not only did they feel better about themselves, but their general outlook on things changed, enriching their lives.
In a 2004 study, people calculated how many times they had volunteered in the last 10 years. The resulting research showed a lower mortality rate among those who stated that they volunteered for empathetic reasons rather than selfish ones.
One interesting caveat from that study showed that among people who said that they volunteered for reasons other than to help people (like peer pressure or personal satisfaction), the mortality rates were the same as for people who had not volunteered at all.
“It is reasonable for people to volunteer in part because of benefits to the self; however, our research implies that, ironically, should these benefits to the self become the main motive for volunteering, they may not see those benefits,” study researcher Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis told Livescience.com.
Meanwhile, there still exists an opportunity to help those in need.
Hurricane aftermath: How to help Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico was slammed by two storms — Hurricanes Irma and Maria — in a matter of days this year. Even now, the island nation only has about 70% electrical capacity with many months, if not years, of recovery expected.
There are a number of humanitarian organizations and charities involved in the relief work in Puerto Rico. This link lists several organizations that are in need right now.
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Earlier this month, a series of fast-moving wildfires took more than 40 lives, caused widespread evacuations and destroyed more than 8,000 structures.