Looking to Make 2020 Your Best Year Ever? Volunteer!
This is the time of year when many of us pause to evaluate our lives and make plans and resolutions to improve our state of being. One great way to improve our lives is to volunteer. For older Americans, volunteering is a great way to age well. Here are just some of the ways volunteering can help people maintain healthier and happier lives as they grow older.
Many older Americans find it more and more difficult to maintain a sense of purpose and sel-esteem as they age. Their children may be grown and raising families of their own. They often no longer work, retired from their lifetime careers. The opportunity to feel connected and valuable becomes more and more of a challenge for many seniors. Volunteering can provide that sense of purpose and meaning in life, as well as promoting socialization and physical activity. Volunteering offers a tremendous boost to healthy aging. Numerous studies confirm that seniors with a sense of purpose are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, disabilities, heart attacks or strokes, and are more likely to live longer than people who are still searching for a purposeful outlet. A study conducted by Drs. Randy Cohen and Alan Rozanski and colleagues at Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York found that having a high sense of purpose in life is associated with living a longer life and a reduced risk for cardiovascular events. An article that appeared in the American Medical Association News even urged doctors to “prescribe” volunteer service for their patients!
First, volunteering provides an excellent opportunity to stay engaged with others in the community. We’ve discussed the importance of staying socially active before. Research continues to emphasize the need to stay connected to family and friends as we age. Some researchers have suggested that social isolation is as dangerous to our health as obesity. Those who make socialization a priority in their lives have been shown to have healthier bodies and sharper minds.
Seniors tend to be at higher risk for depression. A study conducted at the University of California, Riverside showed that practicing acts of kindness can be an effective way of treating depression. The researchers used brain imaging to demonstrate that altruistic behaviors and other positive interactions can boost circuits in the brain that reverse depression and apathy. Looking for ways to lift your spirits? Volunteer!
Volunteering is a classic win-win
Healthcare providers and service organizations alike are calling this new emphasis on volunteer service a big win-win. Social service agencies, community groups, nonprofit organizations, schools and cultural organizations all report that they rely more than ever on volunteers to help their programs succeed. Fortunately, help has arrived as seniors are stepping up in greater numbers to offer their services and give back to the community. The U.S. Administration on Aging reports that a record number of older adults are volunteering today. Almost a third of seniors volunteer—that’s over 20 million older adults, whose donated service is valued at $67 billion per year. A third of all volunteers are age 55 or older.
So, if you’re ready to donate your services to a great cause, but aren’t sure where to start, visit volunteer.gov and look for opportunities in your area. If you’re still having trouble finding “just the right cause,” create your own volunteer opportunity! Call an organization that interests you and see if they have a volunteer program. If you have the desire to give of your time and energy, volunteer opportunities await you. As most volunteers attest, you’ll likely get back far more than you give.