News Post

Health and Wellness: The Health Benefits of Volunteerism

The following submission was requested by the Alabama State Bar’s Quality of Life, Health, and Wellness Committee and is intended to assist lawyers in improving the quality of legal services and improving the educational and ethical standing of the bar §34-3-43(a)(7)). Views and conclusions expressed in submitted articles are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the editor, other editorial staff, employees of the Alabama State Bar, officers of the Alabama State Bar, or members of the Board of Bar Commissioners.

The Health Benefits of Volunteerism by Tiffany Ray

“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands —

one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

–Audrey Hepburn

In the recent Netflix documentary “Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones,” National Geographic explorer and author Dan Buettner travels across the globe to spotlight pockets of the world where lifespans are longest and examine what lifestyle choices contribute to longer and healthier lives.  One of the common threads connecting these age-busting hot spots was the importance of service to the broader community.

In a Blue Zone on Okinawa, the idea of “ikigai”— a reason for being or sense of purpose—plays a vital role in keeping people healthier longer.  And in Loma Linda, California, another Blue Zone, volunteerism is an important aspect of daily life.  As one resident says in the film, “It creates sheer joy … we all have choices every day. Do we want to be dormant? Or do we want to be productive and to lead a productive life and to serve humanity?”

Research has shown that volunteering our time to community service is not just a good thing to do, it’s also good for us.

“The quality of your life will be determined by the quality of your contribution. When you work to improve the lives of others, your life improves automatically.” 

Kurek Ashley

As lawyers, we tend to lead high-stress lives.  We work long hours, develop bad habits, and pay the price in reduced health and well-being.  Carving out time for a new activity may sound like a counterintuitive response, but volunteer service can significantly improve physical and mental health, and those benefits could reverberate in other areas of life, improving performance overall.

According to health professionals, devoting time to community service releases dopamine, which helps reduce stress and anxiety and creates positive feelings of well-being.  Volunteering makes people feel happier and more fulfilled.  It can also boost memory, mood, and self-esteem and help create a sense of purpose.

And the everyday physical activities inherent in many volunteer activities—think walking, gardening, cleaning, or sorting— are also contributors to long-term health.  According to research, volunteering can even help reduce blood pressure and shed weight.

For busy attorneys, it’s also a way to step off the hamster wheel and do something different.  Even if it’s just an hour a week, that momentary shift could help provide needed perspective.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers

connect us with our fellow men.” 

Herman Melville

Volunteering is also a way to improve your community engagement and connect with new people outside your usual sphere—non-lawyers, for instance.  It’s a way to make new friends and develop a stronger sense of community for yourself and others. It puts you in contact with like-minded people who contribute to the growing good of the world.

Positive social interaction, meaningful friendships, community ties—these are some of the benefits of volunteerism, but they are also contributors in their own right to longevity and quality of life.  In this way, acts of service create ripple effects that improve our own lives and the lives of people around us in diffuse and immeasurable ways.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

– Arthur Ashe

What kind of volunteer work will boost your own ikigai? Ask yourself, what are you passionate about? How can you help? Even the smallest effort is important.

A simple place to start is within your legal community, with activities available through the ASB, local bar associations, or a volunteer lawyers program.  Or perhaps you’d like to devote more time outside the legal profession.  Do you love art, theater, or music? Maybe you would enjoy volunteering as a docent at your city’s art museum, an usher with your favorite community theater, teaching children in an after-school arts program, or playing music for residents in assisted-living facilities.

Is cooking your passion? You can help prepare meals for a soup kitchen, or for families at a nearby Ronald McDonald House. Do you want to help kids succeed? Consider tutoring children in underserved areas, coaching a sports team, or reading to children at your local library.  Find your cause and jump in.  The possibilities are endless.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

– Margaret Mead

If you’re not sure how to help, United Way organizations across the state maintain volunteer websites where local nonprofit groups post information about their current needs.  Browse the listings and find something that strikes a chord.  If nothing fits the bill, design your own.

Below are links to volunteer listings for selected United Way groups across the state.

To find other United Way organization in your area, go to  Every little bit helps.

For resources on the power of volunteering, try these:

Tiffany Ray is an attorney with Taylor Martino Rowan, P.C., in Mobile.