You might think that the healthiest, happiest older people eat plenty of vegetables or exercise regularly. You might think they live near loving family or sleep soundly every night. You might think that they are active in their place of worship.
And they might. But study after study has shown—even when researchers control for age, gender, race, socio-economic status, and health habits—that older adults who volunteer are healthier, happier, and live longer than those who don’t. They also receive greater health benefits from volunteering than younger adults do. In fact, studies have shown that older individuals with chronic illnesses have fewer health problems after they volunteer than when they only receive medical care.
Volunteering improves mental health as well as physical health. It has a positive effect on what researchers call “social psychological factors”—such as life satisfaction, and giving people a sense of purpose, a sense of accomplishment, and a sense of belonging. When you feel like you’ve done something important or helped another person, you might feel good about yourself.
It’s important to note that many of these studies were longitudinal. This means that researchers studied the same people over a long period of time. They found that people who were volunteering at the beginning of the study were happier years later, and that a larger percent of the volunteers were still alive than non-volunteers.
It may be that happier, healthier people are more likely to volunteer—but it’s also possible that volunteering leads to improved health, which allows older adults to maintain their independence as they grow older. People who volunteer when they are younger are more likely to be in better health when they’re older. So don’t wait until you’re 60 to start volunteering!
And perhaps best of all, you don’t need to commit to several hours a week to reap these benefits. It appears that 100 hours per year, or about two hours each week, are enough to help you while you help others.
To find out about volunteer opportunities with VNSNY, call 1-212-609-1570.