By Laura Jackson

While most of us understand that volunteering is vital to the success of our communities, more and more research shows that it’s now also proven to be good for your physical health. And if you are a resident of Utah, you are actually more likely to have already experienced this added benefit.

According to a recent national report conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), an independent federal agency, the state of Utah tops the list ranking first among all 50 states and Washington D.C. with 43.8 percent of its residents volunteering.

Recent research published by the American Psychological Association suggests that people who volunteer may live longer than those who don’t. The study found that adults over age 50 volunteering on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than the non- volunteer group, a key factor contributing to heart disease, stroke, and premature death.

The University of Michigan Research Center also found that volunteering can lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and improve heart problems. BMC Public Health demonstrated that those who volunteered in their communities were up to 20 percent less likely to die prematurely.

Because volunteering can enhance our social connections, which in turn affects an overall sense of satisfaction, it encourages the body’s release of the hormone oxytocin, responsible for so many positive functions including relieving stress, decreasing anxiety and increasing feelings of love and empathy.
Findings cited in The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research published by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that people with chronic pain experienced a reduction in their pain intensity and less disability when they started to work as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain.

After reviewing more than 50 studies showing that people who acted sincerely for the benefit of others enjoyed greater health, happiness and even increased longevity, Dr. Stephen Post, teacher and author of Why It’s Good to Be Good believes, “If the benefits of volunteering or altruism could be put into a pill, it would be a bestseller overnight.”

Although much of the research focuses on older populations, research results show benefits for the health of youth as well.
A recent study presented in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics found that high school students experienced a drop in their cholesterol levels after volunteering with younger kids only once a week for two months.

So thank you to the all the volunteers across our treasured community of Park City (with almost 100 active nonprofits, that’s a huge percentage of you) and the nation making a difference in the lives of our children, aging parents, environment, animals, and countless other causes that fill our daily lives. Not only do you change the world, but you continue to log tremendous health benefits with each hour of service.