Big hearts are stronger

Is it just me? Maybe it's you too. Have you been thinking lately about how you might more positively influence your community — maybe even the world? Do you ever think, "I should do more?"

If you're having any kind of thoughts along those lines, you are being incredibly selfish. Yes, you heard me correctly. Here are the facts. Studies demonstrate that people who volunteer in their community are notably healthier. Those folks who become foster grandparents or regularly work in their church's food pantry or read to low-literacy kids have notably greater physical and mental well-being. They are not just healthy — but healthier.

There's a significant connection between volunteering your time and talent and personal wellness. The studies are everywhere: Duke University, Washington University in St. Louis, Johns Hopkins University — there's a new mega study from AmeriCorps ( The findings are quite compelling. Volunteers have greater longevity, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease.

For folks over age 70, the threshold, i.e. the point at which we can be fairly assured of getting that wellness benefit, is only about 100 hours a year — which is approximately two hours a week. Remember earlier, when you were caught saying, "I should do more?" Well, "more," does not really seem to involve all that much time. Such a package of possibilities this is becoming.

There's a book soon to be published, "Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research That Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Leading a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life" (It's being written by Case Western Reserve University professor Stephen Post). Studies indicate our motivations may be altruistic, but the effort translates into individual health benefits.

Don't you think all of this gives new meaning to the phrase, "You gotta have heart?" In fact, one study even had this finding, "Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger."

Folks who lead the way locally with volunteerism are putting on a Volunteer Forum and Fair to give you a chance to personally explore what you might do in this area — how you can help — or if you're already volunteering, introduce some new areas for your consideration. The event is Monday, May 18 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the new RCC/SOU Higher Education Center (101 S. Bartlett, Medford). It's part of the push to "Take Care of Oregon." Put the date on your calendar. (You might want to do it now — you can finish reading this column later.)

I have one more point to make. Did you see recently published articles indicating Oregon was "the saddest" of all the states. It's based on fiscal indicators like unemployment rates and numbers of foreclosures ( When I heard that, I wanted to say — "No, we aren't a sad state, look at us more closely." I wanted to prove them wrong. Granted, some of the data is sobering and the percentage of hungry people in our area is definitely increasing. But "¦ "saddest?" Let's not let that be true.

Help others, help yourself. Have heart. See you on the 18th. Wear a smile.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.

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