By Tom Lowrey, Education Assistant
“For people who think there’s nothing to live for and nothing more to expect from life, the question is getting these people to realize that life is still expecting something from them.” ~Viktor Franklin
“Eat more vegetables,” we tell ourselves. “Stop smoking. Get up off the couch. Exercise more. Watch less TV…”
Almost all of us want to live longer, healthier, more productive lives, and so we tell ourselves to “do this” and “don’t do that.” However, the secret to feeling better about your lifestyle might not be the gym, but instead, volunteering.
New research by the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that people who volunteer spend 38% less time in hospital. The research, which was carried out with more than 7,000 Americans over the age of 50, also found that volunteers took more preventative health
screenings. It backs up previous studies which claim that mortality rates are 24%-47% lower for volunteers than their peers. Plenty of other reports suggest that volunteers of all ages are healthier, potentially with lower weight, reduced cholesterol and more stamina, flexibility and less stress.
“Help given to others is a better predictor of health and well-being than are indicators of social engagement or received social support,” the researchers concluded. In fact, “social connections may be beneficial to the extent that they provide individuals with the opportunity to benefit others.” Helping others can also give us meaningful roles that boost self-esteem, mood, and purpose of life, which in turn can enhance mental and physical health.
Researchers Eric Kim and Sara Konrath think this body of research is robust enough that doctors should prescribe volunteering along with diet and exercise to improve health. They conclude that volunteering results in similar health outcomes to quitting smoking, yet doctors don’t advise people to volunteer as they advise them to quit lighting up.
If you have time and energy left after helping friends and family, it’s great to do volunteer work in your community. And while people of all ages can benefit from volunteering, older people—especially the retired—seem to benefit the most.
Sadly, fewer Americans are volunteering now than any time in the last two decades. Since 2005, the national volunteer rate declined from 28.8 percent to a 15-year low of 24.9 percent in 2015. Actual volunteer hours haven’t declined though, because those people who do
volunteer are taking up the slack by putting in more hours. Still, the need for good volunteers is greater than ever. And maybe it’s time for people to write themselves a prescription: Volunteer!
As someone once said, “Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.”
And according to Winston Churchill, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
By the way…we really need more volunteers here at Senior Services. Tina Podboy Laughner, our Volunteer Coordinator, is looking for some good people to drive transportation vehicles, deliver Meals on Wheels, or be a Friendly Visitor or a Friendly Shopper… even if it’s only once a week! If interested, call her at 633-3741.
Here are some quotes from our own Senior Services volunteers:
- The reason I volunteer is I feel I want to contribute to the organization that provides so much to the community. ~ Bill Albe, Trailside Volunteer
- Don’t know what I’d do without it! ~ Terry Jackson, Driver
- These folks are like extended family. I enjoy having this connection with older adults. Sometimes we (volunteer meal drivers) are the only contact they have that day. It really brightens their day! ~ Ann Roeseler, Meals on Wheels Driver
- I think the time I spend benefits me even more than the people getting the meals! They are always so thankful to see me and it’s a wonderful feeling. ~ Dolores Koppi, Meals on Wheels Driver