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Study identifies healthy benefits to volunteering

8/30/2013, 6:04 a.m.

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Suzanne Richards

Volunteering may improve your mental health and help you live longer, a new review suggests.

Researchers analyzed data from 40 published papers and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than non-volunteers.

In the findings published Aug. 22 in the journal BMC Public Health, reviewers found that volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.

Dr. Suzanne Richards of the University of Exeter Medical School in England, who led the review team, said further research is needed to understand the apparent link between volunteering and health.

“Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health, but more work is needed to establish whether volunteering is actually the cause,” she said.

Common reasons that people cite for volunteering include giving something back to their community or supporting an organization or charity that has supported them. Some people also volunteer to gain work experience or to widen their social circles.

Richards said it is still unclear whether biological and cultural factors and social resources that are often associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place.

“The challenge now is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take up volunteering, and then to measure whether improvements arise for them,” she said.

Worldwide, the number of adult volunteers varies, with estimates of about 23 percent in Europe, 27 percent in the United States, and 36 percent in Australia.