Aside from skill acquisition, feel good chemicals and social networking, volunteer work offers physical health opportunities. Whether walking the hallways of a school, hammering in nails for Habitat for Humanity or carrying meals to seniors, movement is the foundation of physical health. Our culture of sitting on the job staring at a computer screen with intermittent bursts of running on a treadmill misses the opportunity for the working out muscle groups with natural movement.. Natural movement addresses all the muscle groups. Consider the simple task of carrying meals to seniors. Waking up steps works the leg muscles, while carrying the meals helps build arm strength. A simple two pound weight lifted repeatedly can help with maintaining range of motion and strength. While it can’t replace an exercise program, it can help by providing movement through out the experience. One school based volunteer told me that she loss almost twenty pounds helping at the school between walking to the classrooms and keeping up the students.
Emotional Well Being
Depression and Anxiety affect over 14 million people in the US over the age of 18. Generally medications, nutrition and exercise have been the course of treatment missing the component of volunteerism. Research from the Mental Health foundation discusses the connection between helping out and the release of chemicals in our minds that increase our feelings of well being. As a school based occupational therapist I have witnessed the power of helping others in children. It is one thing to tell someone that they are worthy. But when they help someone else, they know they are important.
Change is driven by awareness of social injustices. But is awareness enough?