April 19 marked the start of National Volunteer Week, a celebration of the more than 63 million Americans who gave a helping hand last year. This week should also serve as a call to action for all of us to help our communities by giving back.

A new survey offers another reason to add “volunteering” to our daily routines. UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people with causes in their communities, have released results of a survey of more than 4,500 American adults that associates volunteerism and social action with a healthier lifestyle.

The survey homed in on the impact of “giving back” as it affects volunteers. 

Highlights of the UnitedHealthcare/VolunteerMatch Do Good. Live Well. survey include:

• 68 percent of volunteers agree that volunteering has made them feel physically healthier.

• 73 percent of volunteers agree that volunteering lowers their stress levels.

• 96 percent of volunteers agree that volunteering makes people happier.

• 76 percent of those who volunteer through their job said that they felt better about their employers because of their employers’ involvement in their volunteer activities.

• Volunteers are significantly more likely (36 percent) to rate their overall satisfaction with their lives as “very good” compared to nonvolunteers (26 percent).

• Volunteering appears to correspond to a healthier body mass index, with a lower proportion of volunteers (31 percent) identified as obese when compared to non-volunteers (36 percent).

• 29 percent of volunteers who suffer from a chronic condition agree that volunteering has helped them manage a chronic illness.

Additional research studies, including the 2007 Health Benefits of Volunteering study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, have shown that social interaction through volunteerism can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, increase endorphin production, enhance immune systems and buffer the impact of stress.

More companies are actively encouraging employees to give back to their communities. With the belief that healthy communities are key elements to helping people live healthier lives, UnitedHealthcare launched Do Good. Live Well, an initiative designed to inspire a new level of service and volunteerism across the country. Throughout the next month, it will be partnering with communities around the country, including in nearby Los Angeles, to bring its mission to life by collectively impacting the communities where it lives and serves.

UnitedHealthcare says it is also dedicated to helping manage and prevent chronic disease in America by providing innovative programs to positively impact people’s health and communities. UnitedHealth Foundation’s United in Health Initiatives, which include America’s Health Rankings, Advancing Clinical Evidence, Community Health Centers of Excellence, and the Diverse Scholars Initiative, work together to create annual rankings and community programs dedicated to preventing chronic disease and expanding access to health-care services for those in challenging circumstances. 

As the nation faces tough times and tight budgets, volunteering provides a cost-effective way to support a cause that is important to you. The “get back” rewards are limitless — a healthier community, a healthier workforce and a healthier you.

Take responsibility for your health — and your community — by volunteering today.    

Dr. James Mittelberger is the medical director of UnitedHealthcare in California. For complete survey results, visit: www.DoGoodLiveWell.org/OurCommitment.html