February 5, 2008

Volunteering, It Just Might Make You a Little Healthier!

Beth Tobias

By Beth Tobias, 4-H Extension Agent

That’s the word on the street according to a study released in May of 2007 by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Research suggests that volunteering is particularly beneficial to the health of older adults and those serving 100 hours annually.

According to the report:
  • A study of adults age 65 and older found that the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities.

  • Another study found that volunteering led to lower rates of depression in individuals 65 and older.

  • A Duke study found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression – two factors that that have been linked to mortality in post-coronary artery disease patients.

  • An analysis of longitudinal data found that individuals over 70 who volunteered approximately 100 hours had less of a decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, experienced lower levels of depression, and had more longevity.

  • Two studies found that volunteering threshold is about 100 hours per year, or about two hours a week. Individuals who reached the threshold enjoyed significant health benefits, although there were not additional benefits beyond the 100-hour mark.
    To view the full report visit

4-H Youth Program

Although the study focused on 65 and older it is never too young to start. According to the December 2006 report by the Corporation for National and Community Service growth in volunteering is at a 30 year high with the growth being driven by three primary age groups: older teens (16-19), mid-life adults (46-64), and older adults (65 and over). By getting started as a youth, it will become part of your lifestyle as well as set the example for the younger generations.

Pinellas County Extension believes in the benefits of service and has been fostering volunteerism through the Master Gardener and 4-H Youth Development Programs for many years. Now 4-H and Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) are following the same model and have created a Master Nutrition Volunteer Program. This is the first program of its’ kind in the state and has received so much interest that the first training is full, but plans are to offer it again before the end of the year.

The program is designed to train volunteers in general health and nutrition and in return they will give back 75 hours of service to the community through assisting with 4-H and FCS programs. All of the volunteers participate in 40 hours of training where they will learn the content, activities, and techniques of facilitating programs. Extension programs will reach more people in more places, community residents will receive critical information to live a healthier life, and the Master Volunteers will be a little healthier through their contributions to the community. It’s a win, win situation! For more information about the Master Nutrition Volunteer Program please contact (727) 582-2122 or online at

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