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Would you like to volunteer?

Whether it’s a one-off to mark International Volunteer Day on 5 December or part of a regular commitment, volunteering really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Volunteering work can have a positive impact for both recipients and benefactors, and studies reveal that people who volunteer can experience rewards, such as improved mental and physical health. They’re also likely to have a better perspective on their life and careers. Here are three benefits of volunteer work:

1. A surge of feel-good hormones

There is a growing body of research that indicates that volunteering has several physiological and psychological benefits, such as stress relief and improved mental health. One study from Carnegie Mellon published in Psychology Today even reported that adults over the age of 50, who regularly volunteer, are less at risk of developing hypertension.

While challenging circumstances in the personal lives of volunteers might not change, a release of mood-boosting hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins does increase coping ability. ‘In the society in which we live, many people are under a large amount of work and family stress, which can impact on health and wellbeing,’ says Melinda Howlett, a psychologist based at Life Westville Hospital. With a positive impact on mood and mental health, philanthropic acts hold great stress-management benefits for volunteers.

2. Career and skills development

Many of us have talents and interests that we’d like to include in our day-to-day work, but sometimes our formal job functions don’t have a wide enough scope. If you’ve been developing a graphic-design skill that you can’t utilise in the office, volunteering to make posters or design a logo for an NGO could be a wonderful use of your ability, for example.

It’s not just practical skills that you can exercise through volunteer work. Overseeing a project can also develop your leadership skills. This sort of participation – which calls on both your brain and heart to get involved – is valuable, and was referred to as the ‘next executive training ground’ in an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

If you’re looking for opportunities to volunteer in a meaningful way, explore Life Healthcare’s Sizanani initiative. It has 76 projects across South Africa and Botswana. Many of the hospital and administrative staff are involved in volunteer work, but there’s no reason why friends, families and the local community can’t lend a helping hand too. You can also visit to sign up as a volunteer in areas of cancer care and support, fundraising or administration.

3. Appreciation for non-material joys

Time is a commodity that seems to be in short supply for everybody. But a recent study in the Harvard Business Review has delightful news: people who volunteer their time feel like they have more of it. The study author, Wharton School’s Professor Cassie Mogilner, says: ‘The results show that giving your time to others can make you feel more “time affluent” and less time-constrained than wasting your time, spending it on yourself or even getting a windfall of free time.’

Click here to browse more articles in the latest issue of Life Healthcare magazine.  

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