Volunteer Vacations: The Health Benefits of Helping Others

Image for volunteer vacation articleVolunteering is popular among people of all ages, from students to retirees. What are the benefits of all of this giving?

Creating a Sense of Well-Being

Of course helping others would make you feel good, but are there really health benefits? Studies have shown that volunteering can play a role in your overall sense of well-being. It can reduce depression and improve mental health. Those that volunteered were more likely to be happier.

A report by the Corporation for National and Community Service states that people who volunteer actually live long lives. They also have higher functional ability, and less incidence of heart disease. Volunteering may be even more helpful for older adults and those who serve 100 volunteer hours a year or more.

Helping Chronic Pain

Chronic pain can be tough to manage. Though, the pain has physical causes, mental patterns can play a role in intensity and disability from pain. This may be how volunteering appears to help those in chronic pain. Pain, disability, and depression were all measured.

Pain, depression, and disability all decreased after volunteering. Several months later, the researchers found that the improvements continued. Volunteers often noted “making a connection” and having “a sense of purpose” as benefits that they felt. Managing chronic pain without medicine can be very important in pain care.

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer vacations are also popular. This allows you to immerse yourself in a cause you are interested in. You can explore other countries or stay closer to home. Look for a company with a safe reputation. Take time to learn just what is expected during your time in the program. Make sure you understand what your costs will be. Sometimes food and lodge is included, sometimes it is separate. Some examples of volunteer vacation groups include:

  • The Earthwatch Institute offers trips to remote locations where scientific research is done from filming dolphins to testing water to gathering nutritional information.
  • The American Hiking Society offers trips from Maine to Alaska where participants rebuild footpaths, cabins, and shelters.
  • Wilderness Volunteers work with public land agencies like the Forest Service to preserve and clear wild lands.
  • Passport in Time centers its vacations on archaeological excavations and preserving historical structures.
  • The Sierra Club works on a variety of tasks, from observing marine life to maintaining vulnerable wilderness areas.

Take the time to research volunteer vacations. You will be sure to find one that matches your interests.


International Volunteers Programs Association

United Nations Volunteers


Volunteer Canada

Volunteer Toronto


Arnstein P, Vidal M, Wells-Federman C, Morgan B, Caudill M. From chronic pain patient to peer: benefits and risks of volunteering. Pain Manag Nurs. 2002;3(3):94-103.

Carlson M; Erickson K; et al. Evidence for Neurocognitive Plasticity in At-Risk Older Adults: The Experience Corps Program, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, Volume 64A, Issue 12, December 2009, Pages 1275

Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research. 2007. Available at: http://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf. Accessed June 10, 2020.

Musick MA, Wilson J. Volunteering and depression: the role of psychological and social resources in different age groups. Soc Sci Med. 2003;56(2):259-269.

Last reviewed June 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board  Last Updated: 6/10/2020