The health benefits of volunteering

a volunteer hands flowers to a patient

Let’s talk numbers. For instance 953,874.

That’s the number of hours volunteers gave to Banner Health last year. And with 7,411 volunteers, there’s no doubt the organization is indebted to those who donate their time.  Of course we celebrate our volunteers for National Volunteer Week, April 10-16, but the organization and its patients aren’t the only ones who benefit. The experience can also offer health benefits to the volunteers – both mental and physical.

“I am blessed to work with many volunteers at Banner Del E. Webb and Banner Boswell medical centers,” said Pedro Rodriguez, MD, who specializes in internal medicine. “Patients who volunteer tend to flourish.”

Both Banner Del E. Webb and Banner Boswell are located in areas with a high number of retirees. Because many of the volunteers no longer work, and some have lost a spouse, Dr. Rodriguez said, volunteering gives them a sense of purpose and community.

“Volunteers tend to be engaged in their community and are generally more self-sufficient,” he said. “It gets them out of the house and provides a social structure.”

Dr. Rodriguez said volunteering usually provides an opportunity for more physical activity.

“Even just a little bit of walking during volunteering can be a health benefit,” he said. The increased physical activity can improve simple but essential things, such as breathing, and volunteers may also find decreased blood pressure and improvements with diabetes and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

“The research backs this up,” Dr. Rodriguez said.

Various recent studies, as reported in The Atlantic late last year, have shown benefits for volunteers of all ages to include:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Improved stamina
  • Improved memory
  • Improved flexibility
  • Lower rate of depression

One study also found volunteers have a clearer understanding of how keeping up with regular maintenance health measures can positively impact their community, including flu shots, mammograms, Pap smears, cholesterol tests and prostate exams. Additionally, volunteering was associated with 38 percent fewer nights in the hospital.

The studies reflect what Dr. Rodriguez observes in his practice.

“People who volunteer tend to have improved outcomes,” he said. “And it’s really good for patients who are aided by volunteers. They serve as a role model to the patients, who then say, ‘When I get better, I want to give back.’”

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The health benefits of volunteering

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