A new study shows that volunteering is not only a great way to help those in need, it also improves one’s mental health and wellbeing. However, researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Birmingham assert that these effects only apply to those older than 40 years.

The study published in the BMJ Open online involved reviewing 66,000 responses by adults in the UK. The survey was given between 1991-2008, inquiring about the participants’ leisure time activities and volunteering.

Twenty-one percent of these individuals claimed that they have volunteered. Women were more likely than men to engage in volunteering activities.


Volunteers, Credit: Wikimedia/Antonix Wayfarer

The research team found that the improvements in mental health and emotional were more pronounced on participants 40 years and older. Even those older than 80 experienced the same benefits. The team also found that those people who have never volunteered have lower levels of emotional wellbeing.

According to Faiza Tabassum, a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, volunteering offers opportunities for individuals with activities that may impact health positively. Their findings demonstrate that volunteering is an effective method to improve one’s health.

Volunteering can also give a person a sense of purpose, Tabassum adds. This is especially true for those who are not working anymore but do not want to be isolated and still want to socialize.

“Precisely how opportunities for engagement in volunteering can be provided and sustained is a considerable challenge at the present time because of the pressures of austerity, while the distribution of voluntary organizations means that opportunities to participate are not always available everywhere,” adds John Mohan, a professor and the Deputy Director of the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham. “But this study does suggest that we should pay attention to the diversity of experience of people across their life course, and not just uncritically assume that volunteering has benefits for everyone, everywhere.”