The Impact Volunteering Has on Health

A study conducted in England confirms the positive health effects of volunteering, not only on volunteers but on beneficiaries themselves

Volunteers in ThailandIn 2008 a report was prepared  on  “Volunteering and health: what impact does it really have?” There is substantial anecdotal evidence to show that volunteering has a positive impact on health, but a new review of research, commissioned by the Volunteering England organisation, has endeavoured to determine the scope of this impact.

The organization Volunteering England commissioned the University of Wales, Lampeter, to conduct a systematic review * of the research published. The researchers were instructed to evaluate the possible health effects this has on the volunteers and on the beneficiaries of the services. The researchers identified close to 25,000 potentially relevant articles in database searches. Of these, 87 met the selection criteria and were studied.

The Institute for Volunteering Research is a worldwide research agency  and part of NCVO.


The impact on the health of the volunteers

The studies reviewed in this research showed that, under certain circumstances, volunteering has a positive impact on the health of the volunteers and can affect:

  • Longevity
  • The ability to carry out activities associated with daily living
  • The ability for people to cope with their own ill health
  • Adopting healthy lifestyles and practices
  • Family relationships
  • Quality of life
  • Social support and interaction
  • Self-esteem and sense of purpose
  • The perception people have of their own health


The review also showed that volunteering reduces the risk of:

  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Hospitalisation
  • Pain
  • Psychological stress

The only study included in this review that highlighted a negative effect of volunteering on the health of the volunteer involved those who cared for the elderly. Research showed that volunteers tended to be less satisfied than paid employees.

Other contextual factors also appear to be important. For example, older volunteers seem to get more health benefits than younger volunteers.

The impact on the health of beneficiaries

BeneficiariesDue to different context variables, it is more complicated to generalise about the effect of volunteering on beneficiaries than on volunteers.

However, it is possible to identify cases that have been documented in studies carried out in which the action of volunteering has made a difference to the health and welfare of the service.

Positive results included:

  • Increased self-esteem and confidence
  • Better social interaction, integration and support
  • Improved illness management
  • Lessening of depression
  • Less intense pain response
  • Lessening of the burden on caregivers/educators
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Improved cognitive function
  • Increase in number and duration of mothers breastfeeding
  • More childhood immunisation
  • Better parenting skills
  • Increased levels of physical activity
  • Improved diet
  • Medication compliance and clinical care
  • Fewer hospital visits
  • Improving relationships between patients and health professionals

None of the quantitative studies found any negative effects in volunteering, although several studies failed to show a statistically significant effect for some of the outcomes measured.

Link to the report of the investigation. In English

Volunteering and health: What impact does it really have?

* A systematic review is carried out by following the procedures specified previously to identify, investigate and evaluate all relevant literature on a particular topic.