The Health Benefits of Giving Back

By Danielle DeSimone

Did you know that you can improve the lives of military service members and their families while also improving your own personal health? It’s true! Science shows that supporting charitable causes and the people around you can lead to better physical and mental health.

As a military supporter, whether you’re boots-on-the-ground at our USO centers or donating from the comfort of your own home, your support of the USO helps us make the lives of our service members and their families better – and, in turn, yours as well.

Here are five ways that show how giving back to our military community is good for you:

1. Giving to Yourself vs. Giving to Others

According to professors of behavioral economics and psychology at Duke University, if you receive generosity from others, you may experience short-term happiness, but if you are the generous one doing a good deed for someone else, you are more likely to experience long-term happiness, and to a much greater degree. In other words, treat yo’ self and be happy for a day, but give back to others, and you’ll be treating yourself (and the people around you) to even more happiness for a longer period of time.

Photo credit USO Photo

Giving back to organizations like the USO through charitable donations or volunteering can make all the difference in the lives in our nation’s military.

2. Under Pressure? Give to Take the Edge Off

Professors from John Hopkins University and the University of Tennessee found that people who offered social support to others in their network and gave back to charities had lower overall blood and arterial pressure than those who were less generous with their time and treasure. Similarly, a 2013 study by Carnegie Mellon University found that adults over the age of 50 who volunteered at least four hours per week – reaching 200 hours or more in one year – were 40% less likely to develop high blood pressure than their peers.

By supporting members of the military community – whether it be through a straightforward donation, volunteering at your local USO center or offering your services to job-seeking military spouses at a USO Spouse Networking event – you could lead a more fulfilling and healthier lifestyle.

3. Stressed But Blessed

In the middle of a stressful work week, or when you have a mile-long to-do list and not enough time to tackle it, sometimes the last thing you want to do is take time out of your day for someone else. However, researchers at Stony Brook University say being generous is an easy way to refresh your body and re-energize your mind.

Professor Stephen G. Post explains that giving to charities activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure and trust, lowering overall stress in participants. He also says giving back is closely associated with a reduced risk of illness and death, and sometimes can lead to lower rates of depression.

Photo credit USO Photo

A USO Volunteer assembles holiday care packages to send to service members deployed overseas during the holiday season.

4. Giving From the Heart

While giving from the heart will certainly help those in need, science says it may also help your own heart – quite literally.

In 2013, researchers at the University of British Columbia measured the cholesterol levels, inflammation and BMI of teenagers to study the effect volunteering has on the risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. They found that teenagers who spent their free time volunteering were more likely to have “the greatest decreases in cardiovascular risk over time.”

In addition, a 2012 study by the Health Psychology Journal and the University of Michigan discovered that elderly participants who regularly volunteered were “at a lower risk for mortality four years later.” In other words, the more you give back to those around you, the longer you may live.

Interested in giving from the heart to those around you? Click here to learn more about volunteering at your local USO center!

Photo credit USO Photo

A USO Volunteer welcomes service members into a USO center.

5. Help Others Live Better and So Will You

For those hoping to improve their outlook on life and mental health, volunteering and charitable giving might be the answer.

In a study by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers found, quite simply, that people who give to charitable causes are happier than those who don’t, with generous participants showing “greater life satisfaction,” according to Dr. Debra J. Mesch of Indiana University.

Research also shows that oxytocin, the neurotransmitter that regulates social interaction, increases in some people who regularly volunteer, which can improve their overall mental health. Additionally, the 2013 University of British Columbia study mentioned above found that teenagers reported feeling more connected to their community after volunteering, which helps decrease feelings of social isolation.

Giving back helps you and the deserving communities around you. To learn more about how you can improve the lives of our military community, click here.

The USO is a not-for-profit organization and not part of the Department of Defense. The appearance of DOD visual information does not imply or constitute DOD endorsement.

-This story first appeared on in 2019. It has been updated in 2022.

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