Looking for ways to improve your health this year? Consider volunteering at a local charity or nonprofit organization.
According to a news release compiled from studies over the past two decades by the Corporation for National and Community Service, people who volunteer as a group live longer and have better health -- both mental and physical health -- than people who don't volunteer.
Volunteering gives us a sense of purpose and builds our social network, both of which help reduce our stress levels. Volunteering can also increase your self-esteem and happiness. Researchers call it the "helper's high." Helper's high is that gratifying feeling we get when we volunteer, which leads to an increased trust in other people. Researchers also found that volunteering gives us physical health benefits, including relief from chronic pain, less incidence of heart disease and greater life expectancy.
While an annual afternoon volunteering at your local soup kitchen is a great way to start, to achieve a true "helper's high," you'll need to do a little more than an afternoon's work over the course of a year. Data collected through the "Assets and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old Survey" found people who spent about 100 hours or more (about two hours per week) on volunteer activities with at least two (or more) organizations per year were the most likely to reap the associated health benefits.