If you’re getting up in years and just getting up out of bed in the morning has become a challenge, searching for volunteer work may be the last thing on your mind. But it may be just the boost you need. There is a growing body of research that indicates just how important it is to stay active by doing volunteer work after we retire.
It’s not hard to imagine that “giving back” helps us to find a genuine sense of meaning and purpose in later life, and that this good feeling can give us a health lift. To volunteer at any age feels good, but for a retired person with a lifetime of skills and experience, using that knowledge to improve the lives of others reminds us that although we are getting older, our value is not diminished. Sociologist Erik Erikson coined the term
“generativity” to describe this stage of human development. Generativity is the satisfying work that a person does later in life that firmly establishes the fact that something
worthwhile has been produced for the coming generation, or for the good of the
The satisfaction of having given something worthwhile to our community not only produces a good feeling in us; it has been proven in many studies to help us live much longer! A research project led by Arizona State University psychologist Morris Okun
concluded that “…among older adults with some functional limitations, the risk of mortality is approximately three times greater for those who did little or no volunteering, relative to those who volunteer more frequently.”
Drs. Harris and Thoresen at Stanford University published their findings of a link between volunteering and mortality in the Journal of Health Psychology. They monitored a sample of over 7500 seniors in the United States for 8 years. Compared to people who “never volunteered,” people who “volunteered rarely” had a 41 percent decrease in mortality risk. People reporting that they “sometimes volunteered” reduced their risk of death by 42 percent, while those “volunteering frequently” reduced their risk by 53 percent. In addition, senior volunteers report better mood and health than those who don’t volunteer.
Seniors often develop loneliness, depression, and worsening of physical health as they retire from meaningful work and begin to lose friends and relatives. Volunteering helps fill this important gap. Formal volunteer programs can help provide an important new identity and purpose for older adults. This new sense of purpose results in an improved life attitude, as well as the health benefits that go along with increasing social engagement.
The Shepherd’s Center of Richmond is a volunteer-driven organization of seniors who volunteer to help other seniors. Each year, Shepherd’s Center volunteers contribute over 10,000 hours of service as teachers, drivers, handymen, and as committee members coordinating the work of the Center.
Consider volunteering this summer. It’s just what the doctor ordered!