09 Apr 5 Reasons Volunteering Promotes Healthy Aging
Promoting good physical and mental health and helping seniors pursue their passions in retirement are just a few of the intrinsic rewards derived from volunteering.
Woodrow Wilson stated, “There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.”
National Volunteer Week in the US is April 7-13, 2019. National Volunteer Week, always held in the third week of April unless the spring religious holidays coincide, has been celebrated annually since the 1970s and is sponsored by the Points of Light Institute. “Shining a light on the people and the causes that inspire us to serve” is the motto of the Points of Light Institute. Contributing to that intention we have compiled a list of 5 Reasons Volunteering Promotes Healthy Aging.
Over 77.3 Million volunteers offered their service in 2018 creating an estimated value of $167 Billion dollars in the US.
Not only is volunteering a gift to communities on the local and national level, it is extremely beneficial to the health of the volunteer. Five of the top health benefits of volunteering as a senior include:
- Longer and Healthier Lives
Older Americans who volunteer frequently live longer and report less disability. Previous research has shown that volunteers live longer. This was observed in volunteers age 70 and older (Luoh and Herzog, 2002; Harris and Thoresen, 2005) and, in a more recent national study, among volunteers who were 50 and older (Lee et al 2010).
AARP Founder Ethel Percy Andrus stated, “The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live.” If you observe the statistics of senior volunteers and extended healthier lives you can see just how true Ms. Andrus’ words are. Being of service to others creates a sense of purpose, keeps older volunteers engaged in the world outside of their homes, encourages a more active lifestyle, and can offer challenges that promote the continuation of critical thinking and mental flexibility.
- Prevents Isolation and Symptoms of Depression
One study found that bereaved individuals who engaged in volunteering activities to help others experienced a shorter course of depression than those who did not volunteer. (Brown, Brown, House, and Smith, 2008). Statistics show that “The Widowhood Effect”, the increase in the probability of a person dying a relatively short time after their long-time spouse has died to be between 30%-90% within the first three months. The statistic decreases to less than 15% after the first three months.
Engaging the bereaved senior in activities like volunteering can help to take their mind off of the grief. Grief can be sneaky and is known to pop up and surprise us when we least expect it. By staying engaged with the activity and focus volunteering requires, grief’s sneak attacks may be softened in the light of present moment demands. Volunteering can give perspective to a grieving heart by witnessing others who are also struggling. A sense of gratitude can come from volunteering for those less fortunate. A grateful heart can offset the pain of grief, even if just for a few moments.
- Keeps Seniors Active For Longer
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. Over 60,000 volunteers working to improve the lives of people age 5o and over stay active in well into retirement. Whether they pack nutritious meals for food-insecure seniors, tutor underserved children to read at grade level so they can avoid poverty later in life, or help low-income older adults file their taxes, these volunteers stay active making vital contributions to their communities.
Pat Crenshaw, a Jacksonville Florida AARP volunteer states,
“Volunteering has been a great pleasure in my life. I find it brings me pleasure and something to do. Also, it is so much fun when “seasoned mature adults” get together and we share pics of our grandchildren, talk about our ailments and even things happening in the world. I have met new friends that give me good reasons to go volunteering. We take on more projects volunteering than we did working. My volunteering has kept me busy and helps me to realize that I am doing something to contribute to society. I have met new people and it is a pleasure to be around others like myself. I don’t have time to sit at home and waste away. As seniors we see a need and we try to meet it. I have many volunteering opportunities and enjoy each and every one. It keeps me busy and active.”
There is no doubt that volunteering keeps Seniors more active as they age. The benefits for remaining active and exercising as we age have been well documented. Exercise is a social activity that has been shown to improve moods, strength and mobility and increase mental capacity.
- May Help Prevent Dementia
The National Institute on Aging has stated that participating in meaningful social activities, like volunteering, can improve mental health and reduce the risk of dementia.
“Several scholars have found support for the notion that social, physical, and/or cognitive activity in later life is associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Across these studies, risks of dementia were reduced by 26% to 60% over a 4- to 9.5-year follow up. Some scholars even suggested that the interplay between social, physical, and cognitive activity—such as characterized in voluntary work—is most beneficial in reducing memory impairment and dementia risk in later life. Retired seniors who engaged in activities that demanded moderate effort in all, or at least two of the three domains were 47% less likely to develop dementia. Fratiglioni and colleagues argued that a physically active, cognitively challenging, and socially integrated lifestyle in late life protects against dementia. Despite these astute and novel insights, cohesive evidence for the protective benefits associated with volunteering in later life is lacking.” –https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0173885
- Promotes Intergenerational Relationships
Many high school and college students are encouraged to volunteer to enhance their college applications and resumes. Volunteering together creates an opportunity for intergenerational relationships between seniors and young adults. Through shared experiences lasting friendships can form despite generational differences. The benefits of staying connected across cultural and generational divides is continuing to be embraced by more organizations. We are witnessing an ever-growing increase of programs created to foster this rise in our multi-generational workforce and populations.
Maccallum, Judith & Palmer, David & Wright, Peter & Cumming-Potvin, Wendy & Northcote, J.K. & Brooker, Miriam & Tero, Cameron. (2006). Community building through intergenerational exchange programs: Report to the National Youth Affairs Research Scheme (NYARS).
Join Hands Day, May 4, 2009 is a nationwide volunteer day (sponsored by America’s Fraternal Benefit Societies) to bring young people together with adults to create new and better relationships by working as a team within their own neighborhoods. Forbes magazine recently cited a multi-generational workforce as a competitive advantage for companies.
“Having a multigenerational workforce can, and should, be a distinct advantage for companies today. The wide range of ideas and knowledge from a broad group of people can actually serve the company well, and help employees excel in their work.”
Gen2Gen is Encore.org’s campaign to mobilize 1 million adults 50+ to stand up for — and with — young people today. The quote on the home page of their website sums up perfectly the hope shared by so many of the companies fostering intergenerational relationships.
“By bringing the generations together, we’re working to realize the potential of longer lives, the potential of every child, and the power of older and younger generations working side by side for change.”