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Study Reveals Volunteers Lead Happier, Longer Lives

Update Date: Aug 22, 2013 07:00 PM EDT

Helping others may be the secret to long life.  A new study reveals that volunteering may improve mental health and promote longevity. 

After comparing data from many studies, researchers found that volunteers had a 20 percent reduction in mortality compared to non-volunteers. Volunteers also reported lower levels of depression as well as higher levels of life satisfaction and wellbeing.

The prevalence of adult volunteering varied worldwide, with 22.5 percent in Europe, 36 percent in Australia and 27 percent in the United States. The study revealed that people commonly cite altruistic motives for volunteering such as giving back to their community or supporting an organization or charity that has supported them. While volunteering can also be used to gain work experience or to widen social circles, researchers believe that its effects go far deeper.

Volunteering has been linked to a variety of health benefits including increased longevity, improved quality of life, reductions in stress and hospitalization.

While the causal mechanisms underlying the potential health benefits of volunteering are unclear, researchers say that physical benefits could be explained by the fact that volunteers spend more time out of the house.  However, the relationship with mental health may be harder to identify.

"Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health, but more work is needed to establish whether volunteering is actually the cause. It is still unclear whether biological and cultural factors and social resources that are often associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place," lead researcher Dr. Suzanne Richards at the University of Exeter Medical School in the UK said in a new release.

"The challenge now is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take up volunteering, and then to measure whether improvements arise for them," she added.

The latest findings are published in the journal BMC Public Health.

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