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Author's Name: Clare Alexander
Date: Mon 20 Jul 2020

Volunteering for Health and Well-Being

The benefits of volunteering are keenly felt by society at large but what about the benefits of volunteering for the volunteers themselves?

In 2019 volunteers contributed over 5,000 hours to the Making Waves Foundation(MWF). The value of this contribution is seen in the incredible impact on the lives of thousands of participants who take part in MWF programs. 

We know that doing good things for others comes with a feel-good feeling, but are there greater benefits to volunteering for personal health and well-being?

A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine examined this question and the results are phenomenal. The study¹ looked at 12,998 people who volunteer on average 2 hours per week for at least one year, and measured outcomes over 4 years. It not only demonstrated that volunteering improves personal optimism (and we are the creators of optimism) and sense of purpose but that it reduced the risk of mortality by 44%!

Let us have a look at some of the other benefits recorded in the study:

Reduced risk of physical functioning limitations

We can all experience a loss of mobility and physical functionality. This can be a result of too much time seated be that at a desk, driving or on the couch, as we get older we can start to lose some physical function if we don't exercise regularly. The study found that volunteering decreases this risk as it encourages activity. Regardless of the nature of the volunteering activity we are increasing opportunity for physical activity, traveling to and from the activity site (when applicable) is one example of how volunteering increasing physical activity which is covered in the next outcome.

Increased physical activity

This is a benefit we see at MWF with 90% of our volunteers being ‘on-water’ volunteers. Out on our yachts our volunteers are in nature, hoisting sails, grinding winches and moving about the boat to support the participants. Being out on the water has its own added benefits; fresh air, vitamin D and connection to the natural world, all of which are good for our health. Off the water our volunteers are also active! Planning events and supporting the logistics behind the scenes, everyone has an opportunity to be out and moving. Increased physical activity while volunteering has the double benefit of improving health outcomes for the volunteer and contributing to meaningful work in society.

Lower depressive symptoms

Volunteering 2 hours per week lowers symptoms of depression! Those participating in the study saw higher optimism, sense of hope and purpose in life because of their volunteering. At MWF we are the creators of optimism and that is not limited to our participants alone, our volunteers are an integral part of our organisation, they are the change makers. Every day they show up for people with disabilities and facing disadvantage by providing life changing opportunities through our programs. They are part of the excitement our participants feel when they sail out into the harbour and experience the freedom of the water. They support the children who board the boat with hesitation and watch their fears transform into joy. They give each individual who comes sailing with us the opportunity to test their abilities and to feel the exhilaration of pushing beyond their limits.

It’s no wonder that volunteering reduces symptoms of depression, sharing the joy and optimism of what we do is bound to lift spirits.   

In an article by Elsevier about the study one of the study authors, Dr Eric Kim, said "Humans are social creatures by nature. Perhaps this is why our minds and bodies are rewarded when we give to others". The social aspect of volunteering is explored in the next benefit. 

Lower sense of loneliness

It is staggering how many of us feel isolated and alone. Volunteering is an open door to a community, to be part of something meaningful and purposeful. The sense of connection to one another and connection to the program participants is a large part of our volunteer engagement. Creating a family, a place where everyone has value regardless of the labels or limitations placed on them in wider society. At MWF we see everyone for what they can do, we see them for what they offer and we appreciate the diversity of experience that our volunteers bring. Knowing there is a place where you are valued regardless of whether you have a disability, your education, where you come from or what others think of you is sure to give anyone a sense of connection and purpose and reduce feelings of isolation.

The Making Waves Family is always looking for new volunteers who want to bring joy and meaning to the lives of Australians with disabilities and facing disadvantage. It is an opportunity to contribute to society but also comes with so many personal benefits to your health and well-being. Regardless of how young or old you are, your background or even your disability, if you have a passion for changing lives we would love to hear from you. As Dr Kim said, "Our results show that volunteerism among older adults doesn’t just strengthen communities, but enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness.” Those all sound like great reasons to begin your volunteering journey!

To find out more about becoming a volunteer with MWF head to the member sign up page -> Become a Volunteer

Source¹ - Volunteering and Subsequent Health and Well-Being in Older Adults: An Outcome-Wide Longitudinal Appraoch, by Eric S. Kim, PhD, Ashley V. Whillans, PhD, Matthew T. Lee, PhD, Ying Chen, ScD, and Tyler J. VanderWeele, PhD ( It will appear in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, volume 59, issue 2 (August 2020) published by Elsevier.

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