Volunteering to help others helps your own health, too

When you think about activities that contribute to a healthy lifestyle, volunteering doesn’t always crack the Top 10.

However, numerous studies show that volunteers feel healthier, suggesting there might be some truth to the adage that “doing good is good for you.”

I was surprised to learn that volunteering has positive implications that go beyond mental health. A growing body of evidence suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health – including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.

I know that when I’m giving back to my community, I feel better in the moment – physically, mentally and emotionally.

Getting active does seem to help manage stress better, and as I look at other hard-working volunteers, I’m able to feel that connection of completing a task that’s bigger than us.

My introduction into volunteering started while serving with Snohomish County Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It was a way to help one child navigate through those awkward teen years and living in a single-parent household. It was a memorable experience.

Later, I joined service clubs including Marysville Rotary, and the Marysville Kiwanis Club. I’m still a member of Kiwanis, whose mission is to serve the children of Marysville and around the globe. These and other service clubs, like Soroptimist and the Lions, are all doing amazing things in our communities, and they are always in need of new members ready to bring new ideas and expertise.

I have also gladly served on many boards and committees over the past two decades, tackling social issues such as community physical and mental health, youth needs, diversity, and business and economic development.

Over the past decade, mine and my wife’s lives have gone to the dogs. We formed a nonprofit, Marysville Dog Owners Group, that provides stewardship and maintenance for Marysville’s three-acre dog park, Strawberry Fields for Rover Off-Leash Park. Our group also hosts the annual Poochapalooza Dog Festival the second Saturday in July that raises money for dog park improvements and amenities.

It’s hard to put a finger on how we became so passionate about dogs that we started a nonprofit to help dogs in as many ways as possible – maybe it was that inquiring look on our dogs’ faces (you’ve seen it before) that you need to do something for us.

What has happened is we have become part of a larger community of pet owners who use social media liberally to plan meet ups at the dog park, step in to help at work parties and volunteer at “The Pooch.”

One park has essentially created a social and networking community among dog lovers, rescue organizations, veterinary clinics, pet food vendors and others. The good works of one person, or a few people, don’t happen in a vacuum.

Looking at the big picture, volunteering is so intrinsic to the fabric of the Marysville and Arlington communities. If you are a resident, you would be surprised at how many ways exist to become involved and make a meaningful difference in your community.

In our fast-paced and hectic lives, it is easy to forget what great communities we live in. Residents give selflessly of themselves to make others’ live better, helping each other and looking out for their neighbors.

Both communities are filled with unsung heroes who give their time humbly without expecting anything in return. They coach and run youth sports. They rally friends and family to do community cleanups, or join others in city beautification projects. They volunteer to help community food banks and families in need, and volunteer time at emergency shelters.

Churches and business organizations are other groups in Arlington and Marysville that seem to have an endless supply of volunteerism, and an over-the-top willingness to partner with local governments to improve their communities. Volunteers help deliver critical services like firefighting and staffing phones in domestic violence centers, keeping neighborhoods and parks safe, tutoring young people, educating the public on health and safety, and building houses or making home improvements to help the elderly.

Volunteering also promotes personal growth and self esteem. It does shift the way you think of others, like the families and individuals who immediately gain from your good works. When our volunteer group is out maintaining the dog park, we often get donations as a form of thanks. Even when we don’t, dog lovers almost always say thank you for keeping the dog park clean before they leave. The bottom line is that you if you choose to become a volunteer, you will help to make a meaningful difference. While you’ll reap the personal rewards of donating your time and feeling healthier and better about yourself, your efforts will also have a positive impact on the health and well-being of your community and others who call it home.

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