I don’t need research to tell me that volunteering improves the health of adults ages 50 and older; I see it every day at Oasis:
- Take Terri, who was stuck at home after her husband passed away. She knew she needed to get out of the house and do something, so she started volunteering for the Oasis Intergenerational Tutoring program and Peers for Productive Aging, a monthly discussion group. Terri’s mental health is improved by volunteering through her connections with others.
- Then there’s Roxanne, an intergenerational tutor who just completed her first year in that volunteer role. "Making a weekly tutoring commitment has positively impacted my own health and well-being,” she says. For Roxanne, just knowing that she’s helping students gives a boost to her self-esteem and spirits. “Volunteering as a tutor is an awesome way to stay active and engaged with the community,” she says.
Like Terri and Roxanne, volunteers will frequently tell you that they get more than they give from their service, and generally they are speaking of their emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Older adults who volunteer experience less depression and report a feeling of purpose … more so than younger populations who volunteer. These factors also prevent feelings of isolation, which are associated with poor physical health outcomes related to diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer and arthritis.
A 2007 report from the Corporation for National Community Service, and more recent studies from John Hopkins University and Washington University in St. Louis strengthen support for the health benefits to volunteering. Older adults who volunteer are more likely to maintain strength and functional ability, or the ability to perform every day activities, which is key to maintaining independence. Individuals with chronic conditions experience better outcomes when volunteering, such as reduced pain and depression, allowing them to better manage their day-to-day health. Yet another study found lower risk of developing high blood pressure among adults 50 and older if they volunteer.
To experience all the social and physical health benefits of volunteering:
- Find a volunteer opportunity that you truly enjoy.
- Consider an organization or topic you feel passionate about and the time commitment you have to give each week.
- If you don’t have time on a regular basis to volunteer, many one-time or periodic opportunities are available.
- Talk with your friends and neighbors to see what they are doing, or visit online search engines like VolunteerMatch.com.
Programs with volunteer orientation and training will make sure you are armed with the tools to be a successful volunteer. So get out there … do good and feel healthy!
- If you love working with kids, help Oasis celebrate its Intergenerational Tutoring program's 25th anniversary and volunteer as a tutor! Find out more here.
- Other Oasis volunteer ops are available in a city near you!
- Read Pat Gilbert's blog on finding your next volunteer role, with more resources to find your volunteer opportunity!