A group of Enmax employees assemble sandwiches for vulnerable Calgarians during their 2017 workplace campaign

Ask the expert: Is volunteering good for my health?

Every day, Jeff D’Silva, manager at Propellus, a volunteer-focused non-profit in Calgary, hears stories of people selflessly serving others. Take Gertie, who is 102 and volunteers her time to read to school children. Or James, 45, who was born with a congenital brain defect and is now devoting his life to volunteering. (He’s already at 5,800 hours, and counting.)

People like Gertie and James are passionate about why they do what they do, but don’t expect—or want—recognition. “Volunteering gives people confidence, community, and a sense of purpose,” D’Silva says. “And, when you do good things, you feel good.”

Volunteering can enrich every aspect of people’s lives, he says, from reducing social isolation for seniors and helping them feel engaged and connected, to offering new Canadians an opportunity to build networks in their communities. “No matter what you end up doing, it’s a chance to meet people and learn new skills,” he says. “In the end, you get back more than you could ever possibly give.”

Researchers have found plenty of evidence that he’s right. A 2015 study from the University of British Columbia found that doing good deeds could reduce your social anxiety levels, while a report by University of Toronto researcher Dr. Nicole Anderson found that seniors who volunteer are happier and healthier. In Dr. Anderson’s report, volunteers had fewer signs of depression, fewer functional limitations, and better overall health. They even lived longer!

If you’re not sure what kind of volunteering is right for you, D’Silva says a good way to get started is to think about what is most meaningful for you, and look for opportunities that reflect that. If you’re an avid reader, consider volunteering with a literacy program for newcomers. If you’re a foodie, sign up to prepare or serve lunch or dinner at a local community centre.

“It’s less about the role or specific task you’d be doing and more about what you’re most passionate about,” he says. “When you tap into what you love, it leads to more meaningful and lasting connections.”

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