How Doing Good Does Us Good

Older adults possess a vast array of skills and experiences that can contribute to the greater good of society via volunteering. And those who do regular volunteer work benefit physically and mentally—even to the extent of lowering their risk of death, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The study found that besides lowering their risk of death during the study period, adults over 50 who volunteer for at least 100 hours a year also have a lower risk of developing physical limitations, plus a higher sense of well-being as compared to people who don’t volunteer. One-hundred hours translates to just two hours per week of volunteering.

“Humans are social creatures by nature. Perhaps this is why our minds and bodies are rewarded when we give to others,” said Harvard assistant professor Eric S. Kim, PhD, the lead investigator. “Volunteerism among older adults doesn’t just strengthen communities, but enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression and hopelessness,” Kim added.

The analysis was based on data, face-to-face interviews, and survey responses from nearly 13,000 participants. The participants were tracked from 2010 to 2016.

One cautionary note: These conclusions were made before the global COVID-19 pandemic, which makes in-person social activity risky and unadvisable for the foreseeable future. However, Dr. Kim noted that “now might be a particular moment in history when society needs your service the most. If you are able to do so while abiding by health guidelines, you not only can help to heal and repair the world, but you can help yourself as well. When the COVID-19 crisis finally subsides, we have a chance to create policies and civic structures that enable more giving in society.”

Categories: Aging Well, Senior Living