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Fundraising your way to better health

Volunteering and fundraising may actually improve your health and wellbeing, as well as help others. Here’s how.

Health Agenda magazine
January 2019

Fundraising and volunteering can give you a sense of satisfaction – it makes you feel good to help others. But the rewards don’t stop there – if you’re challenging yourself to a healthy activity to raise money, like training for a fun run, it can have direct physical benefits. And, if you’re volunteering, research suggests you may be more likely to look after yourself.

When fundraising and health habits meet

Dry July and Ocsober are good examples of fundraising activities that can also deliver health benefits to the fundraiser. Both encourage people to give up alcohol for a month and raise money for charity.

"People who aren't waking up slightly hungover feel like they have more time for the things that are important to them, and they're more successful at getting to the gym or meeting other goals they have for themselves," says Dr Julie Robert of the University of Technology Sydney.

"Probably one of the biggest things that people report is that they have more energy. They also report feeling more alert and more focused."

Host of SBS’s hit show PopAsia Andy Trieu felt the benefits as soon as he started Ocsober in 2017. Now an ambassador for Ocsober, he says a month of sobriety was a boost for his physical health.

"With the extra time, I went to the gym and picked up salsa and yoga," he says. "I was getting more exercise, which helped reduce my stress levels,"

Healthier as well as happier

While these health benefits can be significant, many of them are just common sense. Drink less alcohol and you’ll probably feel better. Train for a marathon and you’re likely to improve your fitness and strengthen muscles. But what's fascinating about the physical benefits of volunteering is that they’re not limited to projects that involve quitting drinking or getting more exercise.

A study from Carnegie Mellon University in the US for instance, found that people who volunteered 200 hours or more per year were 40% less likely to develop high blood pressure. Other research points to improvements in diet and healthy behaviours – including a study published in Health Promotion International that found that people involved in social causes ate more fruit and vegies.

It can also make you more proactive about your health: research published in the journal Social Science & Medicine suggests that volunteers are more likely to attend routine health appointments like mammograms, flu shots and cholesterol tests than non-volunteers. They also reportedly spent 38% fewer nights in hospital.

Social reward

Research from RMIT University has linked both volunteering and charitable fundraising with improvements in 'subjective wellbeing' - a person’s reported life satisfaction. There are several ways volunteering is thought to have this effect, although exactly how isn’t clear. One factor that researchers have identified is social reward, says Dr Robert.

"If society teaches us that these things are going to attract a social reward and social praise, of course you’ll feel good about doing them," explains Dr Robert.

A sense of purpose

Social reward runs deeper than just having your mates congratulate you.

For Trieu, Ocsober is a chance to get his social circle involved. Having enjoyed Life Education programs as a child, he says that seeing where the funding goes is very satisfying. “You feel like, ‘hey, I contributed’".

This sense of meaning, or purpose, is thought to be a key factor affecting our life satisfaction, with RMIT University research showing that an increase in either the hours spent volunteering or the money donated to charity may result in improved wellbeing.

Although a lot of the research in this area was done on volunteering, recent studies suggest that the benefits apply to fundraising too.

To find volunteering opportunities near you, visit govolunteer.com.au or volunteer.com.au. There are short-term and long-term opportunities for a variety of causes, including disability services, mentoring and environmental conservation.

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