The value of volunteering

Community

The GO Challenge is all about creating a healthier you. But sometimes, the best way to do that is by focusing on others. Maybe you could volunteer at a soup kitchen. Coach your daughter’s soccer team. Serve on a community board. Do chores for your elderly neighbors…

There are hundreds of ways to make a difference in your community. And when you find one you enjoy, you’re not only helping others — you’re giving yourself benefits, too.

Every time you help someone, your body releases the “feel-good” hormone oxytocin, which can:

  • Reduce stress levels and increase feelings of tranquility
  • Limit your exposure to the stress hormone cortisol (which is linked to heart disease and dementia)
  • Help cells repair themselves, store nutrients and grow
  • Help relieve mild or moderate depression

When you help others, your body also produces the chemical dopamine, which can lead to feelings of serenity, peace of mind, and an elevated mood. Many volunteers report getting a “helper’s high.” You’ve probably even experienced it yourself. All it takes is a simple act of caring.

How often should you volunteer? Two hours a week seems to be the magic number associated with health benefits. Of course, any amount is better than none. And all time spent in the service of others is valuable.

So what do you say? Ready to give of yourself for others? This week, think about ways you could make a difference, whether it’s volunteering at an animal shelter, working in a community garden, cooking a meal for someone who can’t cook for themselves, or making a commitment to call a loved one at least once a week.

It doesn’t have to be a big formal commitment either. Random acts of kindness can go a long way toward lifting the spirits of others — and putting a smile on your face, too!

NOT SURE HOW TO HELP? Go to the Volunteer Center at RSVP, a local agency that seeks to match volunteers with urgent needs in the community. The agency works with 83 local nonprofit, civic and faith-based organizations. You can also visit their Facebook page to see a listing of current volunteer opportunities.

Whatever you do — even a small gesture — can make a big difference to someone in need. And when you volunteer regularly, it can also have a positive impact on your health and longevity. So GO on, give it a try. Encourage your friends and family to volunteer, too. It’s good for you. It’s good for them. It’s good for the entire community.