By Robert Preidt
Researchers analyzed data from 40 published papers and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than non-volunteers. In addition, volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.
Further research is needed to understand the apparent link between volunteering and health, the review authors noted.
"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," review leader Dr. Suzanne Richards, from the University of Exeter Medical School in England, said in a university news release.
"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. 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 explained.
The findings were published Aug. 22 in the journal BMC Public Health.
Worldwide, the number of adult volunteers varies, with estimates of about 23 percent in Europe, 27 percent in the United States, and 36 percent in Australia, according to the news release.
Common reasons that people cite for volunteering include giving something back to their community or supporting an organization or charity that has supported them. Some people also volunteer to gain work experience or to widen their social circles.