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Chuck, the holidays have officially begun, and so has the swelling of my stomach! Any recommendation for a healthier season? – “Being Good for Goodness’ Sake” in Belmont, Calif.

I will have more to say in December about ways to keep fit and cut calories during the Christmas season. But here’s something you may not be considering in your holiday health regimen: Volunteering is good for not only your soul, but also your mental health and your lifespan longevity.

Men’s Fitness magazine reported in August that the United Kingdom’s University of Exeter Medical School did a cross-sectional study using 40 published papers. In it, the researchers discovered that those who gave a portion of their time and efforts to help others were likelier to experience less depression, increased life satisfaction, enhanced well-being and even a 20 percent decrease in mortality compared with those who didn’t volunteer.

The study’s author, Dr. Suzanne Richards, who specializes in evidence synthesis and systematic review methods, explained, “When we combined observational evidence from five studies, people who volunteer reduced their risk of death over four to seven years by, on average, one-fifth, relative to people who do not volunteer.”

The Nemours Foundation and KidsHealth offer nine more excellent reasons volunteering is good for us and our kids beyond our physical health:

  • The feeling of fulfillment is satisfying.
  • It reminds us that one person can make a difference.
  • It shows us that sacrifice is good.
  • It teaches us tolerance for those different from us.
  • It can enhance our skill set.
  • It teaches us wise time management.
  • It strengthens our family.
  • It strengthens our community.
  • It gives us a sense of purpose.

Dr. Rick Warren, in his classic work “The Purpose Driven Life,” explained that being a blessing to others is one of five primary purposes for our lives as humans.

Warren wrote: “You were put on earth to make a contribution. You weren’t created just to consume resources – to eat, breathe, and take up space. God designed you to make a difference with your life. … This is God’s fourth purpose for your life, and it is called your ‘ministry,’ or service.”

I believe that a holistic view of health incorporates the original design and purposes for how and why we were created. When we operate how we were designed, we work optimally. And when we fail to meet those standards, to that same degree we’ll experience repercussions someway and somehow – not only as individuals but as families and communities and eventually as a country. Maybe our nation’s struggle to flex our volunteer muscles is symptomatic of other individual and societal ills.

Interestingly, the University of Exeter Medical School study comes at a critical time for U.S. volunteering. According to Men’s Fitness and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “volunteering in the U.S. dropped 0.3 percent in 2012 – so that about 26.5 percent of the population volunteers, ahead of Europe, but behind Australia with 36 percent. In 2011, there was a 0.5 percent decrease in volunteering in the U.S.”

Richards concluded the study’s observations by noting, “The challenge now is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take up volunteering, and then to measure whether improvements arise for them.”

So look for opportunities to volunteer this holiday season and beyond it into the new year. Don’t be a Grinch; rather, be more like good ol’ St. Nick, who gave more than he got.

In fact, never forget that 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul reminded us all of the power of a strong volunteer work ethic: “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Blessed, indeed! It’s a great reminder for any time of the year: When we give something back to our community, church or favorite charity, we’ll get something far more in return. And your soul, mind, heart and body will thank you for it!

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.

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