Physical and Social Benefits of Volunteering

It’s Sunday night.  I’ve been to two fundraisers, two community tree trimmings and hosted a dinner party for friends I haven’t seen in ten years.  I feel good about my accomplishments.

Charlie, 92, helps put up lights

According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, the past two decades has provided a growing body of research that indicates volunteering provides individual health benefits in addition to social benefits.

This research has established a strong relationship between volunteering and health. Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.

The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research has found a significant connection between volunteering and good health. The report shows that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease.

Research suggests that volunteering is particularly beneficial to the health of older adults and those serving 100 hours annually. According to the report:

• A study of adults age 65 and older found that the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities.

• Another study found that volunteering led to lower rates of depression in individuals 65 and older.

• A Duke study found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression – two factors that that have been linked to mortality in post-coronary artery disease patients.

Marge’s 98th birthday

• An analysis of longitudinal data found that individuals over 70 who volunteered approximately 100 hours had less of a decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, experienced lower levels of depression, and had more longevity.

• Two studies found that volunteering threshold is about 100 hours per year, or about two hours a week. Individuals who reached the threshold enjoyed significant health benefits, although there were not additional benefits beyond the 100-hour mark.

I am fortunate that many of my elderly neighbors, about a half dozen of which are in their nineties, are active and continue to volunteer in the community.  One of the neighbors assisting with the tree trimming, Charlie, will soon be 92.  He stays active by taking daily walks, some up to two and a half miles.  Debra, who was a Freedom Rider with Martin Luther King, Jr., is a library volunteer.  Marge, who just celebrated her 98th birthday, is one of those rare persons that make you glad just to know her.  These and other neighbors are an inspiration to all of us.

If this research on volunteering holds true, I look forward to joining my friends and neighbors in many more years of healthy living – and volunteering – in the years to come.

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