How Volunteering Can Improve Your Quality of Life
Getting older can have its’ benefits. One reward is the wisdom that comes with age and life experience. And what better way to share that wisdom than to volunteer? You give back but you get back a lot more. Whether you are sharing your stories at a soup kitchen or helping a student with their reading skills, your life will have more meaning and your age will be an asset when you help others. In fact, a growing body of research has pointed to three main benefits of volunteering including social, emotional, and physical health benefits:
1. Social Interaction
As people age, they may experience loneliness or social isolation especially if they have lost a spouse or close friend(s). Volunteering can provide a way to meet new friends and help seniors get out and be more active. If it is difficult for a senior to leave their home, there are even volunteer opportunities that will come to you. And for residents of assisted living communities, there are also volunteering opportunities that are organized by the staff.
One senior that I recently met volunteers her time to teach high school students how to improve their painting skills. As an artist herself, she has a lot of experience to share such as her knowledge of art history, painting techniques, color theory and suggestions for how students can exhibit their art. Because this particular woman has difficulty leaving her home, the students come to her. As she explained recently, “Volunteering to teach has given me something to look forward to and I have gotten to know some amazingly talented students who share my love of art”.
2. Emotional well-being
Many seniors feel that they have lost a sense of purpose as they get older. As people retire and their children start their own lives, seniors no longer gain their purpose through their work or raising their children. Volunteering can provide a new mission in life. One former successful entrepreneur uses his business expertise to give advice and guidance to people that are interested in starting their own company. He is imparting wisdom that could be the difference between success and failure for many of these entrepreneurs.
3. Health Benefits
We all know the positive benefits of exercise on the body but many of us don’t realize how our emotional well-being can also greatly affect our health. For example, a study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that socially isolated seniors are more likely to experience chronic stress and depression, as well as develop conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.
In fact, researchers followed up with seniors after a year of volunteering and they found that they reported significant improvements in their mental health, along with other socioemotional benefits ranging from a greater feeling of productivity to increased social activity to an overall sense that their life had improved.
It is human nature to want to make a difference in the world and as we get older we have even more opportunity to give back. We not only have time but we have accumulated a lifetime of experiences to share with others. So while volunteering positively impacts our communities and our nation overall, it can also provide tremendous benefits to the individuals that are giving back and sharing their knowledge.
As the late comedian George Burns said, “you can’t help getting older but you don’t have to get old.”
If you are interested in finding out more about volunteer opportunities, take a look at Senior Corps which helps Americans, age 55+ use their experience and wisdom to volunteer and make a difference in their communities.