The Benefits of Volunteering
1st June – 7th June is #VolunteersWeek. It’s hard to comprehend the contribution & dedication by our team members from call outs, to team training, to fundraising, to the maintenance of team bases & equipment – just some of tasks they give their time to.
But what are the benefits to volunteering? One of our trainees, Maria, has provided some answers.
The West Cornwall Search & Rescue Team comprises of a team of volunteers who give their time to help others in need. The desire to make a difference is often the primary driver for most volunteers but what often go unrecognised are the health benefits that go alongside.
Research repeatedly demonstrates that those who volunteer on a regular basis, live longer. One particular study Health Psychology study revealed this to be true, but only if intentions are altruistic – the focus must be on the well-being of others. Another study (Carnegie Mellon) revealed that adults over 50, who volunteered over 200 hours a year, decrease their chances of having high blood pressure by 40%.
These benefits are all by products of the ‘helpers high’ that we experience when giving selflessly to others. The warm feeling that we get is caused by a release of neurotransmitters, one of which is oxytocin, a powerful hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain.
When released, oxytocin causes a release of nitric oxide which causes our blood vessels to dilate, lowering blood pressure. Kindness is therefore known to be cardioprotective! Oxytocin also speeds up wound healing; it promotes the re-growth of new blood vessels. It aids the growth of heart muscle (cardiomyogenesis) and acts as an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant, slowing down the ageing process!
The health benefits of being a volunteer are therefore obviously huge. Taking a more simplistic view, volunteering takes us ‘outside of ourselves’ and we become part of ‘something bigger’. We connect with others who have similar desires increasing and strengthening relationships. We understand that united we make a bigger difference. And above all we understand that when we give, expecting nothing in return we often find ourselves with everything, including health, fulfilment and happiness!