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The Benefits Of Doing Good

Volunteering is about helping others– but you help yourself in the process, too…
By Karen Kwan
Giving back is something many of us strive to do year-round, but life seems to get in the way. Then the holidays roll around and we make that effort to volunteer at a soup kitchen one afternoon or we prepare a few gifts to donate to our favourite non-profit, and we’re reminded of how great it is to be able to help others. Did you know you benefit yourself when you volunteer? If you need a little extra nudge to help you make a regular commitment, consider these health benefits you reap from doing good deeds.
Volunteering gives your brain a workout
Volunteering can be a physical workout– planting trees or picking up trash on the beach, for example, or even standing handing out flyers about a charity, beats a sedentary day on the couch!But volunteering also helps get your brain active: a study conducted in 2009 by Johns Hopkins University found that older adults who volunteered experienced an increase in cognitive function. Think about it: you’re learning new tasks, meeting new people – this stimulates that grey matter.
Volunteering reduces stress levels
When you’re stressed about a situation at home or at work, it can feel like it’s consuming you. By making time in your schedule to volunteer, you divert your focus from the problem that’s giving you anxiety. Instead of spending those hours ruminating about the issue concerning you, you’re giving yourself a breather by concentrating on the cause at hand.
Volunteering helps to build your social circle
Let’s face it: as adults, it can be much harder to find new friends than it was as a kid in the playground. By giving your time (as opposed to giving back by giving money) to a charity, you get the opportunity to meet people from a mix of backgrounds (as opposed to, say, the niche industry where you work full-time), and you know you already have a shared interest – the cause you’re giving your time to – with these new people. Giving back also helps you to strengthen your ties to the community and provides you with a feeling of connection to those around you.
Volunteering helps you develop your social skills
For some people, meeting new people and making new friends comes naturally. If you’re more introverted, though, you likely find this difficult. By volunteering, you get the chance to meet with people who already have a common interest and you get to develop your networking skills. You will find that the more you practise, the more at ease you will be when it comes to having conversations with people you’ve just met.
Giving back can increase your happiness
If you truly don’t have any spare time to volunteer, don’t despair – money helps, too. That feel-good factor isn’t just a warm and fuzzy feeling you’re imagining: research by the University of Oregon has shown that donating money to a charity rather than keeping it to spend on yourself activates parts of your brain associated with pleasure. Also, your altruism and putting your skills to good use gives your self-esteem a boost, which can help boost your mood if you’re feeling depressed.

KAREN KWAN is a freelance health, travel and lifestyle writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter at @healthswellness and on Instagram at @healthandswellness.

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