Volunteering can have great health benefits for seniors

Published 6:11 am Wednesday, June 27, 2018


Guest columnist

I’ll tell anyone that there’s no experience more transformative, connecting and grounding than volunteering. The feeling of satisfaction coupled with community pride makes sharing your heart all worth the effort. But it is not just gratifying — it can be health-promoting, too.

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This is especially true for seniors. With more than 18 million older adults giving back in some way, there’s something to be said about the benefits of volunteerism.

But the perks go beyond just “feeling good.” Much research is pointing to improved quality of life in volunteers over 60, and getting these benefits doesn’t cost a penny.

Benefits of volunteering include:

• Reported reduced disability: About 40 percent of seniors have one disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But one study suggests people over 60 who volunteer are less likely to suffer a disability than those who do not volunteer.

• Promoted physical activity and mental wellness: Researchers cite strong evidence linking physical activity to improved aging health, and some studies state volunteers experience reduced levels of depression and increased brain activity. Volunteerism opens the door to many ways to stay physically active, such as a garden beautification project or a walk to raise money for a cause.

• Lowers mortality rate: The Corporation for National and Community Service suggests people who volunteer had reduced mortality rates than non-volunteers.

So, you’re a senior who wants to share your heart, but you want to do something at your pace. When it comes to volunteerism, there’s a project for everyone.

If you’re feeling generous, check these charitable giving ideas for your activity level:

Mildly active

• If you’re the crafty type, try crocheting blankets for your local hospital.

• Build model planes with school-aged children.

• If you love literature, lead story time for children at your local library.

• Donate your time as an English, math or history tutor.

Moderately active

• Register for an Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s walk in your area.

• Host a bingo fundraiser at the local senior center to raise funds for a cause or organization.

• Chaperone a field trip or become a camp counselor.

Very Active

• Attempt a 5K run/walk event.

• Join a gardening beautification or Habitat for Humanity project.

• Coach your favorite sport at your old high school.

If you’re a web-savvy senior, surf for these sites to match you with a volunteer project that’s right for you:

• RetiredBrains.com lists contact information for national and international organizations with age-appropriate volunteer opportunities.

• VolunteerMatch.org only needs your zip code and you’re one step closer to contributing to a special cause in your area. Or, you can try a virtual opportunity and make a difference in the comfort of your own home.

• CreateTheGood.org allows you to search for in-person and home-based volunteer projects and even has do-it-yourself ideas for AARP members.

If you have given volunteerism a thought but are not sure where to start, you are in luck. All you have to do is look around you (and even online) for opportunities to serve. Not only will you be doing a good deed for others, you’ll be doing something good for yourself.

Lisa Keller, RN, is executive director of Morning Pointe of Danville.