Thank you for the question. This is not an easy question to answer,
given the fact that you've asked about "philanthropic activity" in
general. The positive connection is not between giving in general and
improved health, but between specific types of philanthropic activity.
I have found no evidences on a positive (or negative) effect of giving
in general - including donating to charity. There is no conclusive
research showing that donating money could somehow be connected to
There are, however, many indications that being involved in
philanthropic activity, i.e., dedicating time to a cause, benefits the
giver's health. Some gerontological studies indicate, that elderly
volunteers benefit the most from giving. They might be also "easier"
to research, demographically, and to compare health effects with their
However, Sax and Astin (1997) found the same effects (regarding in
this case mental health and not physical one) with college students:
their motivation grew with voluntary activity. Another survey
included women of various age-groups (Luks 1988).
Here, in fact, some of the respondents reported improved health as
associated by the action of ?giving? ? donating goods and money, and
not only donating their time (?one woman wrote that she treated her
stress-related headaches by shopping for clothing for poor children.?,
Luks 1988). Since this is based on the subject?s own report, this
could indicate that many people generate psychological benefit from
the act of giving itself, which helps them in turn deal with their own
health and mental problems. However, I found no other indications to
this, and in this case ? giving is connected with an action (buying)
and not with a relatively passive activity of giving a bank order.
Luks? 1991 book on the subject (with Payne), ?The Healing Power of
Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others? (NY:
Fawcett) discusses the information available on the subject even more.
You can see a summary of the findings at Random Acts of Kindness:
"Older adults and volunteering: Healthy aging" report by Volunteer
Andrews, Howard F. Helping and Health: The Relationship Between
Volunteer Activity and
Health-Related Outcomes. Advances [Institute For the Advancement of
Health]. Vol 7 (1).
Neena L. Chappell, 1999. "Volunteering and Healthy Aging: What We
Know" (available online at:
<http://www.coag.uvic.ca/research/pdfs/report10.pdf> - PDF document,
requires Acrobat Reader).
Chen, I., Krieger, E.B. (1999). Lend a hand, live longer. Health. Vol. 13 Iss 5.
Cutler, Stephen J. and Jon Hendricks. Age Differences in Voluntary
Fact or Artifact. Journal of Gerontology Series B: Psychological
Sciences and Social Sciences.
Vol. 55. 2000. Pp. S98-S107.
Graff, L. (1991). _Volunteer for the Health of it_ Etobicoke, Ontario:
Volunteer Ontario. (available online at:
<http://www.lindagraff.ca/non%20html/VFTHOI-2004.pdf> - PDF document,
requires Acrobat Reader).
Christina Graham 2003 "Formal Volunteering by the Elderly: Trends,
Benefits, and Implications for Managers"
Harlow, R.E., Cantor, N. (1996) Still participating after all these
years: A study of life task participation in later life. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology 71:1235-1249.
Herzog, A.R., Franks, M.M., Markus, H.R., Holmberg, D. (1998)
Activities and well being in older age: Effects of self-concept and
educational attainment. Psychology and Aging 13:179-185.
Hunter, K.I., & Linn, M.W. (1980). Psychosocial Differences Between
Elderly Volunteers and
Non-volunteers. International Journal of Aging and Human Development.
Vol. 12(3). 1980.
Ronald Jirovec & Christine Hyduk, The Type of Volunteer Experience and
Health among Older Adult Volunteers, 30 J. GERONTOLOGICAL SOC. WORK
29, 36 (1998).
Krause, N., Hertzog, A.R., & Baker, E. (1992). Providing support to
others and well-being in later life. Journals of Gerontology,
Lang, Susan. Volunteering in Retirement Is Indicator of Well-being -
Less So for Older Workers.
Available online: <http://www.news.cornell.edu/Chronicle/99/8.19.99/volunteering.htm>
Luks, Alan, 1988 ?Helper's high: volunteering makes people feel good,
physically and emotionally?, Psychology Today, Oct, 1988 available
online through FindArticles
Luks, Allan, and Peggy Payne. (1991) The Healing Power of Doing Good:
The Health and Spiritual (New York: Fawcett Columbine.) Benefits of
Roger Mannell, High Investment Activity and Life Satisfaction among
Older Adults, in ACTIVITY AND AGING 125, 127 (J. Kelly ed., 1993).
Nancy Morrow-Howell et al., The Perceived Benefits of Participation in
Volunteer and Educational Activities, 32 J. GERONTOLOGICAL SOC. WORK
65 (1999). (Summary available online at
Musick, M., Herzog, A.R. and House, J.S. (1999). Volunteering and
mortality among older adults: Findings from a national sample. Journal
of Gerontology: Social Sciences 54B:S173-S180.
Oman, D. Thoresen, C.A. and McMahon, K. (1999). Volunteerism and
mortality among the community dwelling elderly. Journal of Health
Psychology 4:301-316.Linda J. Sax & Alexander Astin, The Benefits of
Service: Evidence from Undergraduates, 78 EDUCATIONAL REC. 25-32
Perfect, Cheryl Holmes. Why Giving is Good for Your Health. Canadian
1999. Pp 49-52
Jackie Specken and Tracey Geyer (2000) "SENIORS AND VOLUNTEERISM" PDF
Thoits, P. and Hewitt, L. (2001). Volunteer work and well-being.
Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 42 (2), 115-131.Avialable as a
PDF document online: <www.asanet.org/pubs/volunteer.pdf>
Van Willigen, M. (2000). Differential benefits of volunteering across
the life course. Journal of Gerontology Social Sciences 55B:S308-18.
Wilson, John, and Marc Musick. The Effects of Volunteering on the
Volunteer. Law and
Contemporary Problems. Vol. 62 (4) Autumn, 1999. Pp. 141-168.
Available as a PDF online
Judith Wheeler et al., The Beneficial Effects of Volunteering for
Older Adults and the People They Serve, 47 INT'L J. AGING & HUMAN DEV.
69, 78 (1998).
Frank W. Young & Nancy Glasgow, Voluntary Social Participation and
Health, 20 RES. AGING 339 (1998).
I hope this answers your question. Please contact me if you need any
further clarifications on this answer before you rate it. My search
strategy has been, to combine between words that discuss health effect
(?health effect?, ?health benefit? etc.) and words that describe
philanthropic behaviour (philanthropy, charitable giving, charity,
donations, volunteering). I searched in search-engines as well as in
medical databases (e.g. Medscape).