Volunteering builds better health three ways
Keep Moving, Cultivate Social Connections, Live with Purpose
Do you think you don’t have enough time our days to make healthy choices that you know would benefit you? Volunteering can help you make three healthy choices almost simultaneously.
The first healthy choice, Keep Moving, includes incidental movements of daily life, not just planned exercise, such as going to the gym. Overwhelming research shows that Keep Moving predicts lower risks of premature death and a host of chronic conditions. These include obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, dementia and Parkinson's disese. Many experts regard Keep Moving as the most important healthy choice we can make.
The second healthy choice, Cultivate Social Connections, refers to expanding your social network. We humans are social animals. For most, if not all of us, being part of a larger community of people supports our body, mind, and spirit. The medical community now realizes the huge benefits we can realize when we’re part of a social network. Benefits include greater longevity, improved cardiovascular health, and better mental health. Members of your network support you and, more importantly, you support them.
The third healthy choice, Live with Purpose, helps you finding meaning in life. If you Live with Purpose, you can expect to live longer, enjoy better cognitive function later in life, and have fewer sleep disturbances. Volunteering is a great way to Live with Purpose. Volunteering doesn’t need to be organized. You can perform simple acts of kindness of other people, such as shoveling snow from an elderly neighbor’s sidewalk.
For the past 15 years, I’ve volunteered with a Boulder-based organization, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers. The tag line of this organization is simple: Heal the land and build community. WRV organizes one-day to multiday projects that restore degraded areas of wildlands, usually owned and managed by a public agency. My specific role has often involved planning projects then overseeing crews of volunteers who do the actual restoration work. My volunteer work involves a lot of moving around. I also spend lots of time communicating with agency representatives, volunteer crew leaders, and crew members. Over the years of volunteering, I have greatly expanded my network of social connections. The volunteer work I do is highly purposeful and immensely rewarding. It’s hard to beat the satisfaction of seeing a completed project, such as shrubs and trees planted along a degraded stream channel. It’s even more rewarding to return to project sites years later to monitor the results.
My volunteer work with WRV helps me Keep Moving, Cultivate Social Connections, and Live with Purpose. I don’t know for sure if I’ll live any longer as a consequence. But I do know that my life is far richer than it otherwise would have been. I encourage you to volunteer for an organization whose mission resonates with you. In so doing, you’ll likely boost your health and well-being.