Turns out volunteering and giving of your time is every bit as good for you as it is for those you are helping.
The awesome feeling of doing good has far-reaching effects, according to a recent study on the benefits of volunteerism. The study followed 10,317 high school students from their graduation in 1957 until the present. Those who volunteer were found to live healthier for longer than those who don’t.
Researchers pointed to the altruistic, feel-good chemicals released in the body as one reason for the results, but they also suggested that there’s beneficial physical activity involved with volunteerism that helps keep the body moving.
Just ask the people who do it.
Cindi Walker wears a Fitbit when she volunteers several days a week stocking Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital and Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital gift shops.
The Sallie Bender Guild volunteer logs as many as 10,000 steps a day with jaunts between the stock room and the show rooms.
But the physical exercise isn’t the only benefit, according to Walker. Volunteering helps emotional well-being, too, by bolstering feelings of purpose and satisfaction.
According to another study by Carnegie Mellon University, volunteering can help lower blood pressure and lengthen your lifespan.
The Carnegie Mellon research found that 200 hours of volunteer work per year could lower blood pressure by 40 percent. Other studies have derived health benefits from as little as 100 hours of volunteer work a year.
Volunteering can help people feel more socially connected and help alleviate depression, especially in older adults.
Kim Francis, Spectrum Health’s volunteer services manager, said it’s a win-win for the organization’s more than 2,200 volunteers.
“Most of our roles at the hospitals include quite a bit of walking so our volunteers sure get many, if not all, of their health-prescribed steps in while they are here,” Francis said. “And giving of yourself as a volunteer surely can provide you with a feeling of purpose, fulfillment and happiness because you know you have made a true difference in the lives of others.”
Tap constantly strolls the hallways in the unit, listening for the sound of a baby crying. She doesn’t know how many steps she takes each day, but “it’s a lot.”
Probably a marathon’s worth by the time you multiply her 30 years of volunteering in various Spectrum Health arenas–including helping with patient transport and delivering mail.
“I’ve stayed healthy,” Tap said. “I love to help people. It’s meaningful and fulfilling.”
Wayfinding volunteers Jackie Zagers, 81, and Dave Wait, 73, help people find their way around the downtown Spectrum campus. They estimate they walk several miles each day they volunteer.
Zagers, who was widowed 20 years ago, said she loves the social aspect as well as the exercise.
“You either sit home or you get up and get going,” Zagers said.
“It makes me feel good that I’m doing something important and the side bonus is it gives me exercise and keeps me moving,” Wait said. “It’s from one end of the hospital to the other, which I do regularly. It adds up.”
Wait formerly volunteered at a blood bank. He said his Spectrum role is much more aerobic.
“As you retire, it’s pretty easy just to turn on the TV,” the 72-year-old said. “You need something else in your life and volunteering kind of motivates you that way. Here, I don’t sit at all. I keep walking around and seeing what I can do. The endorphins get going and it keeps you in a good mood.”