The Proven Health Benefits of Volunteering

  • April 3, 2019
The Proven Health Benefits of Volunteering

When retirement rolls around there are a lot of options for what comes next. Some people travel, others spend more time with grandchildren, some play golf, and others choose to volunteer their time. Volunteer work for older adults provides a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community, help those in need, and feel good about it in the process.

And, according to research, it can also be good for your health. A study from the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences revealed that there are a variety of benefits of volunteering as an older adult.

Volunteer Work For Older Adults Proves To Be Rewarding

Researchers examined 73 studies published in the span of 45 years that involved adults over the age of 50 in volunteering roles. They discovered that volunteer opportunities for seniors yield fewer symptoms of depression, better overall health, fewer functional limitations, and longer life expectancy.

The study also found that older volunteers enjoyed a feeling of appreciation from those they helped, resulting in a better sense of 'psychosocial well-being.’ Volunteer work for older adults creates a strong emotional response for participants, stemming from the knowledge that showing up to volunteer has value to others.

To gain the maximum benefits of volunteering, seniors should aim to dedicate two to three hours a week with their organization of choice. After this threshold, according to the research, seniors generally showed no additional health gains. Although it can never hurt to spend more time helping others!

The Benefits of Volunteering

In particular, the study showed that those living with chronic health conditions could benefit most from participation in a volunteer activity. For many seniors with compromised health, volunteering can represent a safe and controlled environment in which to be active, collaborative, and productive.

You don’t have to be suffering from an illness or depression in order to reap the benefits of volunteering, however. Senior Community Services, a nonprofit that helps organize resources to meet the needs of seniors and their caregivers, has identified five main reasons why seniors should volunteer their time during retirement:

  1. Connect with different generations. Once you retire and are no longer working in an office, you can become disconnected to younger generations. Volunteer work gives you the opportunity to bridge that generation gap, serving as both the teacher and the student depending on the project you’re working on.

  2. Put your own troubles in perspective. Whether or not you are stressed out about money, health concerns, or general life troubles, volunteering can make you feel better about it. Senior Community Services cites a study from Wharton College which found “that people who give their time felt more capable, confident and useful.”

  3. Improve your mental health. Volunteer work for older adults has been shown to increase feelings of happiness and decrease feelings of depression and anxiety. It also can help you continue to learn new skills as you age, which lowers your risk of experiencing cognitive decline.

  4. Combat isolation and depression. For many, changes that occur later in life—the cessation of working, the loss of loved ones—can trigger a sense of losing one’s purpose in life. Volunteer opportunities for seniors provide a sense of purpose, encourage connection with others, and stimulate involvement in the greater community, all of which have a positive impact on your happiness.

  5. Stay physically active. Having a reason to get up and get out of the house is important, especially once the honeymoon phase of retirement has ended. Beyond daily activity, volunteer work for older adults can also involve charitable walks, runs, and bike-a-thons that promote physical activity for a good cause.

Supporting Volunteer Opportunities for Seniors

At Medical Guardian, we are big believers in giving back to our community through volunteer work. In fact, one of our core brand values is “Passion for Purpose,” which means that we are driven to have a positive impact through our business. In addition to providing affordable and reliable medical alert devices to those living independently at home, we also work with our greater community to try and better the lives of those in need. April 7th kicks off National Volunteer Week: will you be volunteering anywhere? We’d love to hear about your experience! Tweet us @MedicalGuardian.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hilary Young is a health and wellness expert that specializes in both senior life and caregiving. She'd love to hear more about your thoughts on aging, healthy living, and caregiving, and you can find her on Twitter at @hyoungcreative to start the conversation.

KEYWORDS: volunteer opportunities for seniors, benefits of volunteering, volunteer work for older adults

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