Volunteer (v.) from the Latin voluntarius, which means “willing; of one’s free will.”
Millions of seniors are freely giving their time and skills to good causes all over the country. You may be one of them. But did you know that volunteering doesn’t just benefit the people or organizations being served? It also has significant benefits for the volunteers – especially senior volunteers.
Four Benefits of Volunteering in Retirement
A growing body of research is finding a positive association between volunteering and improved mental and physical health, particularly for aging adults. Senior volunteers report lower rates of depression, higher levels of well-being, fewer physical limitations and lower mortality rates. Here are a few reasons why.
- Volunteering reduces the risk of depression and lowers stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, those age 65 and up have lower rates of depression if they volunteer. A key reason is that volunteering increases your social interactions and helps you build a healthy support network. Social circles tend to shrink as you age, and when that happens, isolation becomes a serious risk to your mental and physical well-being. Interacting with others and knowing you have people you can count on goes a long way toward a happier life. Eighty-eight percent of AmeriCorps Seniors volunteers who felt a lack of companionship reported fewer feelings of isolation after becoming a volunteer.
- Volunteering keeps you physically active. Even moderate physical activity can help you stay healthy and more independent. Keeping yourself moving through volunteer work is an easy way to do some good for your body now and help prevent loss of function as you get older. One study of older adults found that participants who volunteered for 100 or more hours per year showed a 63% decrease in decline of physical function in contrast with those who didn’t volunteer.
- Volunteering helps you stay mentally sharp. The United Health Foundation says that seniors who volunteer on a regular basis have fewer cognitive complaints and show a lower prevalence of mild to moderate dementia when compared with other seniors. Having constructive ways to spend your time and learning new skills as you volunteer both promote cognitive function that has lasting benefits.
- Volunteering increases a sense of purpose. Retirement has a lot of perks, but it can bring a sense of loss when you no longer have work responsibilities. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) highlights several studies linking volunteerism with a stronger sense of purpose, which in turn positively impacts physical and mental health. One study found that participating in community service as a senior volunteer was more strongly associated with life satisfaction than working for pay.
How You Can Find Ways to Volunteer
The CNCS says the most common forms of volunteering are:
- Collecting, serving, preparing, or distributing food
- Fundraising or selling items to raise money
- Engaging in physical labor, such as helping build homes or cleaning up parks
- Tutoring or teaching
- Mentoring young people
- Collecting, making, or distributing clothing
Think about your professional experience, unique skills, creative abilities or interesting hobbies – what would you like to share? Or perhaps there’s something you’d like to learn, such as a new skill or even a new language, which you can then use to help others. Volunteering can also be as simple as reading to kids, driving older seniors, or spending time with someone who can’t leave their residence. Residents at Rolling Green Village find all kinds of ways to stay active through volunteering – and you can, too.
If you’re looking for just the right place to give of yourself as a senior volunteer, start locally. Check volunteer listings for your local libraries, museums, senior living communities, houses of worship, food banks and community gardens. You can also use these websites to help broaden your search to do good.