The Health Perks of Charity Work

Teenage volunteers sorting clothing donations in community center

Doing charity work as a volunteer, whether on Mandela Day or simply in your spare time, is known to have health benefits. Here are some of the reasons why it's so good to be – and do – good.


Performing acts of charity will leave you warm and fuzzy inside – mostly because doing good is seriously good for your health. Research published in the journal Health Psychology indicates that individuals who volunteer may live longer than those who don't, with the small proviso that the reason they volunteer is to help others, not themselves.


"It is reasonable for people to volunteer in part because of benefits to the self," explains study coauthor Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis. "However, our research implies that, ironically, should these benefits to the self become the main motive for volunteering, they may not see those benefits."


Another study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, supports this finding. Lead researcher Dr Eric Kim says, "Regular altruistic activity reduces our risk of death, even though our study didn't show any direct impact on a wide array of chronic conditions."


Why Is Giving Back Important for Your Health?


Volunteering is also good for your overall health, especially during your latter years, according to research from Carnegie Mellon University in the US. "Participating in volunteer activities may provide older adults with social connections that they might not have otherwise," said lead study author Dr Rodlescia Sneed. "There is strong evidence that having good social connections promotes healthy ageing and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes."


Some research suggests that volunteering has health benefits because it decreases stress levels. "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," Sneed told Harvard Health Publishing.


A study from Ghent University in Belgium found that volunteering also promotes and increases physical and cognitive activity, which helps prevent functional decline and dementia in old age.


But not only do volunteers live longer and healthier, they've also been found to be happier. In a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers found that people who had volunteered in the previous year were more satisfied with their lives and scored their overall health as better. Those who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health than those who didn't volunteer as frequently (or at all).


Further research by Harvard University found that those who volunteered weekly experienced happiness levels that were equivalent to a life-changing salary boost. In an economy where salary boosts are few and far between, that's a piece of news worth sharing.


How to Give Back


The impact of the pandemic means that more organisations than ever need help from volunteers. Of course in these unprecedented times, volunteering is not as straightforward as it used to be. Be sure to check in with your chosen charity to see how things might have changed.


If you can't volunteer, there are many other ways to lend your support. Here are a few to choose from:


  • Ladles of Love: Help to feed the hungry by donating money, raising funds, donating groceries or sandwiches, and volunteering.
  • SPCA: With branches across the country, there's bound to be an SPCA near you. Besides volunteering your time and talents, you could also help South Africa's best-known animal-rescue shelter by donating money, volunteering a service or leaving a bequest.
  • Kwa-Zulu Natal Children's Hospital: Send in your details to become a volunteer, or donate money. The hospital is currently rebuilding and is working towards collecting R340 million in donations.
  • Izizwe Projects: Help out in their crèches, daycare centres or computer classes, or with after-school sports or adult education.


If you're not swayed by the health benefits, maybe this will pique your interest: a study at the University of Nottingham in the UK found that people who displayed altruism towards others appeared more attractive to potential mates. Now you know.


Speaking of healthy, want to make sure you're getting the best deal for you when it comes to your health cover? Compare quotes on medical aid with our super-easy comparison tool.


This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal or medical advice. 

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