Excerpted from article posted 9:42 pm, Mon Apr 13, 2015. By Lancaster Online Staff Writer, Jeff Hawkes

Particularly in light of our new book about our volunteering in Africa, I love passing along stories about volunteerism that are inspiring, but in this case, it improves one’s health, too! New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, also of Half the Sky fame, has never shied away from challenges. At a recent talk at Elizabethtown College, PA, Kristoff said that volunteerism and altruism are making the troubled world better. He also described ways in which both of these can contribute to an individual’s healthier life:

  • Donating time and money to a cause you feel passionate about is intrinsically rewarding, Kristof said. But it’s also good for your health. Regular exercise or joining a religious group, evidence suggests, reduces one’s mortality risk about 30 percent. But volunteer for a worthy cause, and your mortality risk drops 44 percent. Engaging in a cause may even lift your base level of happiness in a way that a new car can’t. Further, volunteering triggers bio-chemical responses that suppress inflammation and boost health.
  • Leprosy, river blindness and other maladies plagued the developing world a generation ago. Now they are on the way out, Kristof said, [thanks to cheap cures. philanthropists and aid agencies’ tireless efforts.] Curing and preventing blindness, in particular, Kristof said, are boons both for human dignity and for a struggling nation’s economy.
  • [On gaining perspective:] Leaving Darfur or other perilous reporting assignment can feel surreal, Kristof said. “You can spend a day scared in a refugee camp or the middle of nowhere,” he said, but that night be sipping wine on a flight above the ocean. After coming back from Darfur one time, Kristof recalled, his editor informed him the Times had a rough year and raises would be paltry. Kristof responded, “As long as you don’t pull my kids from my arms and throw them in a bonfire, I’m really happy.”
  • In the field, Kristof said, he enters “a professional numbness that protects me from the horror of some of these stories…” But in reporting on the worst of humanity, Kristof often encounters extraordinarily courageous people who risk their lives to save others. “I sometimes manage to come back from war zones or killing fields actually feeling better about the human spirit,” he said.