Researchers at England’s University of Exeter have found that volunteering is associated with increased longevity and improved mental health, based on self-assesments and observational data. “Some observational evidence points to around a 20 percent reduction in mortality among volunteers compared to non-volunteers in cohort studies. Volunteers also reported lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being, although the findings have yet to be confirmed in trials.” Worldwide, the prevalence of adult volunteering varies with estimates of 22.5 percent in Europe, 36 percent in Australia, and 27 percent in the USA.
What’s the Big Idea?
Whether volunteering is the cause of longer life, or whether biological and cultural factors that are associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer, remains an open question. Researchers theorize that the physical benefits of volunteering “could be explained by the fact that volunteers spend more time out of the house.” The relationship between volunteering and mental health is more complex, requiring that those who wish to benefit find an appropriate balance, as volunteering too much can make a cheerful habit a burden of its own.