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Updated 02 August 2017

5 reasons volunteering is healthy

Volunteering has many benefits and there is plenty of research to support this. Here are five reasons you should volunteer.

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Volunteering is good for your health and general wellbeing. And there are a number of studies and research to prove this. 

Health benefits of volunteering

study conducted by the Carnegie Mellon University showed that those who had volunteered at least 200 hours in the 12 months prior to baseline tests were less likely to develop hypertension than non-volunteers. 

“Many people find volunteer work to be helpful with respect to stress reduction, and we know that stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes,” said lead study author Rodlescia Sneed, a doctoral candidate in social and health psychology. 

The UnitedHealth Group conducted a survey of 3 351 adults – the majority of participants said they felt mentally and physically healthier after volunteering. In fact, 94% said volunteering improved their mood, while 76% felt healthier. An incredible 96% said volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life, while 78% reported that their stress levels were lowered. 

The Health24 team decided to prove this research and volunteered their time to help build a house with Habitat for Humanity in Mfuleni, Cape Town. 

Building futures

In South Africa, Habitat for Humanity has employed more than 18 000 volunteers since 1996. Although at first glance people believe it’s just about building houses, it’s actually much more. 

According to the Habitat for Humanity website, building a house is a holistic process.

They say: “We work with the community. We work with families. We work with the government and private citizens and corporations. And through our people-centred approach we help communities address, improve and self-manage their development to sustain their economic futures. We’re also respected advocates in housing and community development policy.”

So when the opportunity to help build a house arose, the Health24 team decided it was time to swap their computers and office chairs for hard hats and concrete, and give back to the community.

Here are five lessons they learnt:  

1. Humility

"The minute I got home, I was able to jump into the shower – I could turn on the taps and have immediate access to hot and cold water. The next day I was feeling all kinds of stiffness in all kinds of places, but it taught me to appreciate what I have – from the roof over my head to the fact that I have a healthy body. I constantly catch myself “body shaming” – the perceived need to lose a few kilos or tone up. But I realised that perhaps I should be satisfied with the fact that my arms and legs are fully functional, I have the ability to carry things, and that I can walk and work," said senior content producer Mandy Freeman.

“It was incredible to see how much can be done when people join hands for a project like this. An entire house was built in less than two days, but it took more than one team to do that! A few people just had to give a little bit of their time, and now a mother has a home to raise her kids,” said Health24 intern Anina Visser. “I feel enriched and equipped: enriched by the experience and equipped to volunteer more often.” 

volunteering, Habit for Humanity, building

2. It can get you outdoors and exercising

"Whether you take on building a house or just go down to your local animal shelter to walk dogs, you can get yourself outdoors and into the fresh air. Of course, not all volunteer work will get you outdoors but there are many other advantages," said Mandy.

3. You learn about other jobs

"I often find myself wondering what it would be like to have a job where I wasn’t deskbound. But I soon realised that spending five hours in the sweltering sun on a construction site is not for the fainthearted. I have also gained a great amount of respect for the men and women who spend their days working hard on a worksite – from mixing cement to moving bricks," said content producer Tarryn Temmers. "They have a skill that I struggled with, and when I got home, I looked at my wall in a different light, with a better understanding of what it took to make it so strong and straight."

“It was such a humbling experience. I have so much respect for artisans,” said Health24 content producer Tauhira Dean. “Sometimes we take the little things for granted, but seeing how hard these guys have to work changed my perspective. The experience taught me grace, patience and respect.”

volunteering, Habit for Humanity, building

4. It doesn’t cost a thing

"So often people believe that you need to spend money to help those less fortunate than you. However, you don’t always need money to make a difference – donating your time is just as valuable," said Mandy. 

5. Learn more about your community

"I’ve been living in Cape Town for more than 10 years and this was the first time I went to Mfuleni. I knew it existed, but if you asked me where to find the area on the map, I wouldn’t have a clue," said Mandy. 

Read more: 

Getting high on doing good

Volunteering makes the most of your time

Volunteers live longer

 
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