Volunteering: It does a body good

By • Published: January 21st, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

This Martin Luther King Day, give yourself and your community a boost by volunteering in support of a worthy cause.

M-L-K Day has long been promoted as a day to emulate King by serving others. There’s no doubt our country could use the pick-me-up. With especially vicious natural disasters and a slow economy, the last few years have not been kind.

But did you know that by volunteering, you could be doing yourself a favor, too? According to a report by The Corporation for National and Community Service, more than 30 studies conducted starting in the late 1980s show positive health benefits for people who volunteer.

Some of the studies showed increased longevity or mental health among volunteers, especially seniors, compared with those who didn’t give their time. Other studies revealed a trend toward better health and functional ability for senior volunteers. Still others found health benefits for volunteers regardless of their ages.

No matter how old you are, you can draw on your own experiences and life struggles to aid others. Those who try it just might find this strategy cathartic, as evidenced by a study of people with chronic pain. When they began volunteering to help others facing chronic pain, the study subjects found some relief from their own ailments. Depression and disability became less of a problem for them.

Data differs on the amount of volunteer work required to see health benefits, and it’s not something that will cure all your ills. But it is likely to promote positive thinking and distract you from your own problems.

Not sure where to serve this M-L-K Day? There are plenty of options. Visit local nursing home residents. Lend a hand to spruce up a nearby school. Spend some time with kids living in a state home. Visit mlkday.gov to find opportunities in your area.