You always heard that giving of yourself is a good thing, but did you know that community service can actually lead to better health: physical health, mental health, and life expectancy?

Our team at Hospitality Health ER meets thousands of community members each year through our interactions at our Tyler and Longview emergency rooms, and by branching out in our personal and professional lives. We do this not only because it comes with the territory of working in the health industry, but also because we find immense satisfaction in engaging and serving our local communities.

This past holiday season, as with every holiday season, we were busy balancing our clinical responsibilities with our commitments to social causes. We partnered with the Longview Fire Department’s Holiday Toy Drive and brought cases of water, socks, and other supplies to the Local Boys’ and Girls’ Club.

Because we at Hospitality Health ER have always been passionate about health and our community, we want you to know that when you commit yourself to community service on a regular basis, you may be doing more for yourself than you would have ever thought. Can you believe that something other than diet and exercise can make a significant difference in how our bodies function, how we feel emotionally and psychologically, and how long we live?

Yup, you heard that right– engaging in community service activities can improve your health and prolong your life. Here’s what we learned from studies gathered over the years.

Give of Yourself for Better Health.

Life Expectancy: Give More Time and Get More Time?

An old Chinese philosopher, Tao Te Ching, once said, “The heart that gives, gathers.” But according to the findings of the Corporation for National and Community Service, you can even take it a step further and say, “The heart that gives, gathers more life.”

The study took a sample of older married adults and found that those who provided instrumental support to friends, relatives, and neighbors had lower rates of mortality five years later than those who had not been providing support. It also proved there really is something more magical about giving than receivingwhile no improvements in health were reported for those who only received social support, lower mortality rates were found in the sample of older adults who gave their time to social initiatives despite socioeconomic status, education, marital status, age, gender, and ethnicity.

Mind you, in order to reap the benefits of volunteering, your intentions should be altruisticnot self-seekingaccording to one study performed by researchers Eric Kim and Sara Konrath of the Harvard School of Public Health. The observational study found that people who volunteered for “self-oriented” motives, like a need to escape from problems, had a mortality risk that was similar to non-volunteers. But for those who were doing it for more noble reasons–with a true compassion for others–had reduced rates of mortality.

Mental Health: Find Your Sense of Purpose

Have you ever helped someone out and felt darn good about it? You are probably familiar with the natural high you get when you give a great gift to a friend or lend a helping hand to someone in need. So you won’t be surprised to learn that volunteering has a positive effect on your social psychological well-being as well as your sense of purpose.

A study by CNCS with a sample of adults age 65 and older found that those who volunteered enjoyed positive physical and mental benefits due to the personal sense of accomplishment that the individual gained from his or her volunteer activities.

The results of the study also support the “social integration theory,” or “role theory,” which suggests that by volunteering, you expand your social connections which can reduce stress and risk of disease. The theory states that a sense of meaning and purpose can be driven by having different roles in society. Social connections can also protect a person from feeling isolated during difficult times.

Physical Benefits: Feel and Be Healthier

Because having a positive psychological state can have a positive effect on your physical health, volunteering can potentially lower risks to your physical health. Research collected by United Health found that three-quarters of people who volunteered in a twelve-month span reported feeling physically healthier. On top of that, it found that volunteers are more likely than non-volunteers to consider themselves in excellent or very good health.

Another study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University revealed that adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than those that didn’t volunteer. And as you probably already know, preventing high blood pressure is important to your health because it reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and premature death.

So why is volunteering so good for you? Is it because it gets folks off the couch, out of the house, and moving around more? Researchers are still trying to identify exactly what elements of volunteering have the most impact on physical and mental health. But without a doubt, statistics show that doing good is really good for your health.

The Perfect Trio: Exercise, Diet, and Serving

It’s interesting to learn how health and community are truly interdependent: health education and economic resources can directly affect the wellbeing of a community, while community service can really lead a person to better health. Because Hospitality Health ER wants to see our community healthy and thriving, we encourage you to get involved in a cause you’re passionate about.

If you’ve already resolved to better health at the turn of the new year, why not commit an hour a week to helping others? No doubt, exercise and diet are instrumental to good health, but it’s the giving of your time that may make the biggest difference of all.

So instead of just aiming for better health by changing your diet and running the treadmill, make sure you add community service to your list of New Year’s resolutions. But only do it if you truly have it in your heart to help others. That’s how the real magic happens.

Give Well. Live Well. Be Well.