Volunteering promotes physical, mental health: poll

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Volunteers, whose numbers have grown to 63 million in the United States, help to strengthen communities and to improve health -- their own.

About 84 percent of people questioned in a survey agreed that volunteering improves physical health, and 95 percent said it may also have emotional benefits, according to a poll of more than 4,500 Americans released by United Healthcare and VolunteerMatch, a national nonprofit group.

About 68 percent of volunteers said their philanthropic work made them feel physically healthier.

In the wake of the U.S. housing and global credit crisis, the number of volunteers has climbed to about 63.4 million people, or 26.8 percent of the population, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics through September 2009.

In 2008, there were 61.8 million volunteers, and the volunteer rate was 26.4 percent.

Volunteers tend to enjoy more positive attitudes at work and experience less anxiety and stress, the survey showed. A lower proportion of volunteers also suffered from obesity when compared to non-volunteers.

“Volunteering is an activity we all can do, not only to serve our neighbors and communities, but also to improve our own well-being,” said Dr. Mark Leenay, senior vice president at UnitedHealthcare.

About 41 percent of Americans volunteered in the past year, and 70 percent of respondents reported donating money to an organization, according to the poll.

But some corporations that have endured the worst recession in decades seem to have pulled back on philanthropic efforts.

Four out of 10 companies whose philanthropic arms are ranked by the Foundation Center among the top U.S. foundations said the dollar value of their giving increased in 2009, two said it remained steady, and four said it dropped.