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Volunteering is good for those who help and receive help. Researchers went a bit beyond. They discovered that the reasons that lead people to practice volunteering boost the health benefits of volunteers. Therefore, altruistic volunteers live longer than those who are more self-centered. “People who volunteer with other people as their main motivation may be buffered from potential stressors associated with volunteering, such as time constraints and lack of pay,” says University of Michigan researcher Sara Konrath.

Konrath and colleagues looked at results from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has followed a random sample of 10,317 Wisconsin residents from their high school graduation in 1957 until the present. In 2008, the average age of the participants was about 69, and about half of the participants are female. In 2004, the participants reported how often they had volunteered within the past 10 years. They also explained the reasons for volunteering. In the case of those who had not volunteered but were planning to, they explained the reasons why.

Those with a focus more oriented toward others reported that “volunteering is an important activity for helping others”. Others presented self-centered reasons: “volunteering is a good escape from my own troubles” or “volunteering makes me feel better about myself”. Researchers then compared the participants’ responses with physical health information that had mostly been collected in 1992. The researchers considered the respondents’ socioeconomic status, mental health, social support, marital status and health risk factors, including smoking, body mass index and alcohol use.

Longevity. The findings showed that those who volunteered for more altruistic reasons had lower mortality rates, as of 2008, than people who did not volunteer. Four years later, they compared death rates. 4.3% of non-volunteers and 1.6% of altruistic volunteers died. However, people who said they volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had nearly the same mortality rate (4%) as people who did not volunteer at all.

“It’s reasonable for people to volunteer in part because of benefits to the self. However, should these benefits to the self become the main motive for volunteering, they may not see those benefits,” said study researcher Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis, from the University of Michigan. Click here for the full article.