Weekly column in the Washington Times Communities by Laurie Edwards-Tate

Photo: Steve Schweitzer

Devoted volunteers often say when asked that they get back far more from giving their time than they are able to contribute. Volunteering is good for the heart and soul – and much more, it turns out.

Study after study shows that volunteers live longer and have lower rates of disease than their peers who don’t volunteer, no matter what age.

Both the Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource and the University of California, San Francisco Health and Retirement Study (HRS) health benefits and lower mortality rates from volunteering. These were the first two studies to control for other factors that might influence results, such as better overall health among people who choose to volunteer, or better socioeconomic status.

In the HRS study, volunteers over age 65 had less than half the normal risk of dying compared to their non-volunteering peers. The maximum health benefits came from volunteering 40 to 100 hours per year, or one to two hours each week.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released a study earlier this year about volunteerism in the United States. While people ages 35 to 44 year are most likely to volunteer, people over 65 volunteer the most hours – an average of 96 hours per year, almost two hours every week. Some other interesting numbers: more women than men volunteer, and more college graduates volunteer.

What this boils down to is yet more proof that staying engaged in life, being active mentally, physically, and socially in as many ways as possible permit us to stay healthy and fit as possible for as long as possible. Better survival and our quality of life depend on it, and it is largely within our control.

These studies use science to reinforce good common sense. Volunteering is a good thing to do, and it’s good for you.

So how do you get started volunteering? More than 40 percent of the people in the Bureau of Labor Statistics report say they started volunteering because someone they know asked them to get involved. An equal number approached the organization on their own, with about 10 percent stating other reasons.

If you’d like to get started as a volunteer, here are a few tips:

  • What are your current interests? What activities make you happy? What are your greatest social or community concerns?
  • What kind of skills have you developed over the years that you can contribute? Or are you interested in learning a brand new skill?
  • Look for opportunities through online research, community listings, or through family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. See if there is a central volunteer resource in your community.
  • Think about how much time you are able to contribute. Would you prefer a regular weekly or monthly schedule, or would you rather work on a single, large-scale project like a major fundraising event or disaster relief project?
  • Talk to a volunteer coordinator and learn if the organization’s mission, goals, and philosophy fit your own.  If not, keep looking for one that will be a better fit.

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!

NEXT WEEK: Disaster Planning for Seniors

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