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Study Says Volunteering Improves Health

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 by: Reuben Chow
Tags: volunteering, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) They say that when you give, you receive. How true is it, or is it just some airy statement championed without logic or reason? There is good news, health-wise, for frequent volunteers and givers - empirical evidence is mounting, it seems, in favor of the whole notion. In a study carried out at Purdue University, it was found that regular volunteers have better cardiovascular health as well as lower blood pressure than their non-volunteering counterparts. Significantly, they also had fewer signs of depression.

Older persons seem to benefit more

Led by Kenneth Ferraro, who is a sociology professor studying health and volunteering and the director of Purdue's Center on Aging and the Life Course, the study also found that the health benefits were more pronounced in older persons - 65 years and above, as compared with those aged 45 to 64.

"The older adults who were engaged in regular volunteering had slower increases in physical disability, and they stayed independent and physically active for a longer period of time. We believe that social engagement is essential to their well-being," said Dr Ferraro.

In the 8-year long study, the study team had looked at whether regular formal volunteering cumulatively impacted mental and physical health positively. This cumulative effect is a possible explanation why older and longer term volunteers experienced more benefits.

Or perhaps older persons, with reduced activity as they wind down on their careers and become physically less able, simply need the social interaction more than younger and still very much active persons. In any case, three things we can learn here are - volunteering is good for health, long-term volunteering is even better, and older persons benefit more from it.

Formal volunteering may be necessary

Notice that, when volunteering was mentioned above, the word "formal" was attached to it. In other words, when we are talking about health benefits, it seems that structured and formal volunteering work is needed.

According to Dr Ferraro, formal volunteering usually involved non-profit organizations with well-defined tasks as well as time frames for volunteering. Participants are also made part of social networks sharing common goals. On the flip side, informal volunteering, for example helping a family member or a neighbor, "can swell into major obligations (and) introduce stress. It's a good way to help, but people may be spending hours per week and not getting much recognition for their efforts," he added.

What stops people from volunteering? Could poor health be the reason in the first place?

Could it be possible that healthier people are more likely to volunteer in the first place? In tackling this question, the study team tried to examine the factors which held people back from volunteering. And they discovered that depression was the main barrier for middle-aged people volunteering on a sustained basis, while it was older persons who found physical health to be their main barrier.

"But what was really striking, is that the older adults, even when they face some depressive symptoms, continue volunteering. It may be that people who are feeling blue [...] seek out an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life and use that as a way to reduce those depressive symptoms. Our problems seem less significant when we start helping others. It's paradoxical, but as you give, you receive," said Dr Ferraro.

A good round-up, indeed.


Study: Volunteers enjoy long-term health benefits (http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/ari...)

About the author

Reuben Chow has a keen interest in natural health and healing as well as personal growth. His website, All 4 Natural Health, offers a basic guide on natural health information. It details simple, effective and natural ways, such as the use of nutrition, various herbs, herb remedies, supplements and other natural remedies, to deal with various health conditions as well as to attain good health. His other websites also cover topics such as depression help, omega 3 fatty acids, as well as cancer research and information.

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