Why volunteering is good for you

Our busy lives are all about give and take. One of the best ways we can give back is by volunteering.

Experts have long known volunteering is great for our health and wellbeing – both physically and mentally.

So to mark National Volunteer Week (May 21-27), we take a look at some of the benefits of lending a hand.

It can keep your mind healthier for longer

A 2005 study by the University of Minnesota found older people who volunteered could slow the decline of cognitive impairment.

It can stave off depression

The same US study found volunteering could slow the increase in depression. The researchers found the more hours a year a person volunteered, the less depressed they felt.

Volunteering widens your friendship circle

You’ll widen your friendship circle

A 2015 Harvard Medical School study suggests volunteering can make us feel more socially connected.

Getting to know others in your community can lead to lifelong relationships, and the researchers say this helps us feel more connected and wards off loneliness.

It can lower blood pressure

The Harvard study found volunteering may contribute to lower blood pressure – because it can increase physical activity, which can in turn lower blood pressure and improve the overall feeling of wellbeing.

According to another US study, older adults who volunteer at least 200 hours each year are less likely to develop high blood pressure.

It can help you feel better about yourself

Volunteering can give you a real sense of achievement and purpose, which can give your self-esteem and confidence a big boost.

Volunteering can help you sleep better

You’ll sleep better

A survey of 4500 people by Stony Brook University School of Medicine found people who volunteered had less trouble sleeping and less anxiety.

And if that weren’t enough, more than two thirds said it made them feel physically healthier, while 96 per cent said it made them happier.

It could lead to a new job

Volunteering will give you new talents, or help you hone existing ones, which is a bonus for your CV. It also gives you a chance to try your hand at something new – and who knows, that might even lead to a career change.

Where to volunteer

Countless community, educational, sporting and other non-profit organisations are always looking for an extra pair of hands.

You could try:

  • Helping to feed the needy at a soup kitchen
  • Reading to school children
  • Helping migrants learn English
  • Visiting nursing home residents
  • Walking, feeding and caring for animals at a shelter
  • Joining your local community tree-planting or bushcare days
  • Helping to co-ordinate or run events like local festivals, fundraisers and shows
  • Mentoring young people
  • Coaching a local sports team

GoVolunteer has thousands of volunteering opportunities to browse. So go, volunteer!

Volunteering as a group is good

Why I love volunteering

Victorian registered nurse Megan Hayes, 42, is among around six million Australians who volunteer each year.

Ms Hayes is a regular volunteer at parkrun, a weekly timed 5km run or walk at more than 300 places around Australia and 17 countries around the world.

“You really get to be a part of your local community and get a real sense of belonging,” she says.

“I feel a lot of self-worth and satisfaction in giving up my time to support others. It’s hard to explain the feeling. But every time I volunteer I can’t help but smile and I always walk away happy and content, no matter what is going on in my life at the time.”

Looking for more inspiring volunteer stories? Meet the barber who is making a real difference on Melbourne streets.

Written by Sally Heppleston