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Recent events have seen people coming together in ways that pre-lockdown seemed almost impossible. This sense of doing things for others and showing kindness when and where we can not only makes a real difference to communities but also benefits us as individuals. Read on to discover why doing good, is good for you too.

WATCH OUR THREE FILMS BELOW ABOUT HELPING IN THE COMMUNITY OVER LOCKDOWN. FIND OUT HOW THEY REACHED OUT TO OFFER THEIR TIME AND EXPERTISE, AND WHY CONTINUING WITH THIS KINDNESS IS SO IMPORTANT FOR THEM.

7 surprising benefits of helping others

It’s been the year of the everyday hero, as many of us have reached out to help each other more, whether volunteering at the local food bank or checking in with lonely friends and neighbours. “We all have something to offer that can be incredibly meaningful and valuable to others,” says Henri Saha, Vitality Wellbeing Coach and specialist in mental health.

“The skills and knowledge you have attained in life may seem ordinary to you because they are just part of who you are,” he says. “But for someone else, you could be making a massive difference.”

Henri Saha
Vitality Wellbeing Coach

And as we live our new normal, cultivating our connections and strengthening our sense of community is something we can all benefit from. Taking on “prosocial” behaviour which benefits society – such as helping, sharing, donating and volunteering – can have an unexpected bonus; it can improve our own health and happiness too. Explore below to see how.

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Meet the Experts

Dr Jurgen Grotz

Dr Jurgen Grotz is the Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK. He has researched questions about volunteering for more than two decades and co-edited the prestigious Palgrave Handbook of Volunteering, Civic Participation, and Nonprofit Associations.

Henri Saha

Henri Saha is a Vitality Coach and Wellbeing & Mental Health Specialist. He is a member of the British Psychological Society and former university lecturer. Henri has a Sport and Exercise Psychology MSc and applies the principles of high performance to helping people with everyday challenges.

Vitality Benefit
There’s always a way to do your bit, no matter how small. Vitality have partnered with Unicef to provide life-saving food for malnourished children in southern and eastern Africa. We will donate one day’s worth of nutrition to Unicef for each member that links their Vitality account with their Waitrose & Partners account. Vitality members can sign up directly in the Member Zone.
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By Anna Magee
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“When volunteering gets people out of the house, it can make them more active, whether through walking or other active projects that force you to move more, so it gets people fitter without structured exercise,” says Jurgen Grotz, a social scientist and Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research at the University of East Anglia. And some initiatives actively encourage exercise while you work; check out Good Gym, a community of fitness-lovers who run, walk and cycle to take part in community projects and visit the elderly.

Volunteer nature conservation charities such as Green Gym, where you help out with clearing forests and woodland, can provide an opportunity to exercise while you do some good (participants report increased fitness, better social lives and reduced stress). And if you’re near the sea, sign up for the (socially distanced) Great British Beach Clean from 18 to 25 September.

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“When volunteering gets people out of the house, it can make them more active, whether through walking or other active projects that force you to move more, so it gets people fitter without structured exercise”

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Jurgen Grotz
Social scientist and Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research at the University of East Anglia
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Being compassionate doesn’t just make other people happier; we get a specific type of wellbeing boost ourselves. This is known as the Helper’s High, where acts of kindness promote physiological changes in the brain associated with increased happiness.

“Volunteering not only alleviates stress, it helps enhance people’s sense of control over their lives and strengthens social relationships,” says Jurgen Grotz, a social scientist and Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research at the University of East Anglia. But research has found* that Helper’s High only occurs if we don’t feel overwhelmed by the tasks we choose, so make sure whatever you do to help others isn’t just another demand on you. “Choosing something you enjoy is essential to get the benefits,” explains Grotz. “Whatever you choose, it’s got to be fun for you.” Whether you’d like to run a 10K or want to organise a talent show at your children’s school, find lots of ideas to fundraise while you have fun at Unicef

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1622872

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“Volunteering not only alleviates stress, it helps enhance people’s sense of control over their lives and strengthens social relationships”

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Jurgen Grotz
Social scientist and Director of the Institute for Volunteering Research at the University of East Anglia
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W ant to preserve your grey matter? In a study*, older adults who tutored children or helped with youth mentoring programmes showed slowed brain decline, which was even reversed in some cases. If helping others with reading appeals, check out children’s charity Bookmark. Keen to do something from home? volunteeringmatters offers various digital opportunities to help young people.
*https://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2009/carlson-brain-scan.html
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Just being a little kinder every day can have positive rewards. A study at the University of British Columbia* found that highly anxious people had more positive moods and less social anxiety and avoidance if they performed acts of kindness over just a four-week period (get inspired at randomactsofkindness).

There is also a body of research* suggesting volunteering is associated with reduced depression; remarkably, the mental wellbeing benefits seem to continue up to a decade after people have finished the volunteer work.

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“This could be as simple as buying someone a coffee or messaging when it looks like they’re having a rough time on social media”

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Henri Saha
Vitality Wellbeing Coach

*https://psych.ubc.ca/news/kindness-may-help-socially-anxious-people-relax-says-new-research-by-dr-lynn-alden/*https://www.ncvo.org.uk/images/documents/policy_and_research/Impactful-volunteering-understanding-the-impact-of-volunteering-on-volunteers.pdf

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V olunteering for about 200 hours a year (about two days a month) could lead to reduced blood pressure. Researchers* suggest this could be down to its stress-reducing effects, or to an increase in physical activity.

Another explanation could be that being more compassionate releases a hormone called oxytocin. Often called the love or bonding hormone (new mums release loads of it)*, oxytocin causes the release of the chemical nitric oxide in blood vessels which dilates them, helping to reduce blood pressure.

*https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3804225/*https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17138963/

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More than 30% of British adults felt lonely during lockdown, say figures from the Office of National Statistics*. A further 2.6 million said they “always” or “often” experienced loneliness, putting them at risk of developing a range of diseases that include heart disease, depression and diabetes. However, in research on 10,000 Britons last year by the NCVO (National Council for Voluntary Organisations), two-thirds of people said volunteering helped them feel less isolated.

Find your local volunteer centre by searching on ncvo, or ask your favourite charity about projects in your area. “If that feels like too much, keep it simple and when you’re feeling lonely, check in with a friend or neighbour and focus on how they are,” suggests Henri Saha.

*https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandlonelinessgreatbritain/3aprilto3may2020

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S tudies* have reported that people who volunteer are around 20% less likely to die prematurely than those that don’t. But the effects of volunteering on longevity only occur when your motives are genuine, for example because you want to help others for altruistic reasons, rather than to achieve a sense of personal satisfaction.

“If it’s because you want to do it and enjoy it, that’s called ‘intrinsic motivation’. If it’s based on something outside of yourself, it’s ‘extrinsic motivation’. Both have their place, but the former is much more resilient in the face of setbacks. In other words, it’s much easier to do something successfully, over the long term, if you inherently enjoy doing it.” So, choose something you’re passionate about – and start sharing the kindness, your way.

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“Ask yourself why you’re doing it”

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Henri Saha
Vitality Wellbeing Coach

  • https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/featurednews/title_315358_en.html https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/hea-31-1-87.pdf https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.15609/annaeconstat2009.131.0117

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