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Posted: Monday, May 11, 2015

Seniors who volunteer are happier and healthier

You know that volunteering is fun and fulfilling and makes you feel happier. Now there’s evidence that volunteering might help you live longer. Having a heart, studies have found, is good for your heart.

Several studies reported in a review of recent research on volunteering by the Corporation for National & Community Service suggest that older volunteers enjoy positive health benefits, are better able to function as they grow older and are better able to cope with and surmount health problems.

One of the studies focused on people 75 and older, and found a correlation between volunteering and better health. It found that people who volunteered for at least 100 hours per year—about 2 hours per week—were less likely to report health problems than comparable individuals who did not volunteer. Another study found health benefits for people who volunteered for at least 40 hours per year.

A study conducted at Duke University compared people who became volunteers after having a heart attack with those who didn’t volunteer. Folks who volunteered reported less despair and depression—two conditions common to post-heart attack patients that are linked to increased mortality.

The Corporation itself did a survey of volunteering in the United States. States with a high volunteer rate have lower rates of mortality and incidence of heart disease.

Researchers at the London School of Economics learned that the more people volunteered, the happier they were. People who volunteered once a month were 7 percent more likely to say they were “very happy” compared with people who didn’t volunteer; Those who volunteered once a week were 16 percent more likely to say they felt happy.

There are many other benefits to volunteering. According to the United Way, volunteering helps you learn new skills and teach your skills to others; lessens symptoms like chronic pain, helps you get to know folks who share your interest; helps you express gratitude for help you may have received in the past, and encourages a positive attitude.

The key to gaining these benefits is to find the right volunteer work for you. If you like being outdoors, you might consider working at a community garden, leading hikes or joining a volunteer open-space committee. If you love animals, you might volunteer at a shelter or rescue organization. Love to read? Join the volunteer board of your local library.

HelpGuide, a resource for nonprofits, recommends these considerations to make sure you get the most out of volunteering:

  • Ask questions to make sure the organization for which you want to volunteer is the best fit for you. Find out what time commitment is expected, as well as whether training is available.
  • Know what’s expected. Give yourself some time and start small, especially if you’re undertaking a new activity.
  • Don’t be afraid to make a change if you’re not happy. There might be another position within the organization that would be more suitable, or you might find another organization is a better match for your skills and interests.
  • Have fun! Your work should benefit both you and the organization.

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