Volunteering improves health, well-being of older adults
Volunteering more than 100 hours per year was associated with health benefits — including reduced risk for mortality — in adults aged 50 years and older, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
“Humans are social creatures by nature,” Eric S. Kim, PhD, of the department of social and behavioral sciences and the Lee Kum Sheung Center for Health and Happiness at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release. “Perhaps this is why our minds and bodies are rewarded when we give to others.”
Kim and colleagues examined data from 12,998 participants in the Health and Retirement Study, which was a nationally representative study of adults aged more than 50 years in the United States. Participants in the study were asked how many hours they spent volunteering at religious, educational, health-related and other charitable organizations in the last year.
The researchers evaluated multiple outcomes of physical health, health behaviors, psychological well-being and distress, and social factors during a 4-year follow-up period.
They found that adults who volunteered100 hours or more a year had a 44% (OR = 0.56; 95% CI, 0.44- 0.71) reduced risk for mortality and a 17% reduced risk of impaired physical function (OR = 0.83; 95% CI, 0.71-0.96) compared with those who did not volunteer.
Kim and colleagues did not identify associations with risks for other physical health outcomes, including diabetes, chronic conditions, cancer and hypertension.
Participants who volunteered 100 hours or more a year were 12% (OR = 1.12; 95% CI, 1.03-1.23) more likely than those who did not volunteer to frequently be physically active.
In terms of psychological factors, Kim and colleagues found that patients with 100 hours or more of volunteering had optimism and purpose in life, and lower depressive symptoms, hopelessness compared with those who did not volunteer.
They also found that participants who volunteered 100 hours or more in a year had lower loneliness and were 29% (OR = 0.71; 95% CI, 0.62-0.8) less likely to report not having contact with friends.
“Our results show that volunteerism among older adults doesn't just strengthen communities, but enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness,” Kim said in the press release. “Regular altruistic activity reduces our risk of death even though our study didn't show any direct impact on a wide array of chronic conditions.”