Volunteering isn’t only good for the soul—it might be good for your mental health and the longevity of your life as well. A cross-study systematic review and meta-analysis led by the United Kingdom’s University of Exeter Medical School found a 20% reduction in mortality among volunteers compared to non-volunteers in several studies, as well as less depression, increased life satisfaction, and enhanced well-being.
“When we combined observational evidence from five studies, people who volunteer reduced their risk of death over four to seven years by, on average, one-fifth, relative to people who do not volunteer,” says study author Dr. Suzanne Richards.
This breakthrough comes at a vital time for volunteering in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteering in the U.S. dropped 0.3% in 2012—so that about 26.5% of the population volunteers, ahead of Europe, but behind Australia with 36%. In 2011, there was a 0.5% decrease in volunteering in the U.S.
While Richards points out that “we cannot be sure whether volunteering is actually the cause of these health benefits,” because of a lack of clinical trials thus far, but “for people who choose to volunteer, there is evidence that it is good for their mental health and well being, and that it may increase longevity.” It is also a good way to build work experience, build connections, and, if nothing else, a good way to get out of the house. Look for opportunities to volunteer. Give something back to your community, and get something in return.