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Seniors: Reap the rewards of volunteering

Volunteering can prove a huge help to people and organizations in your community. But do you know that volunteering can also help you?

Research has found that volunteering can have big rewards at any age. Some of that research even focuses on the benefits volunteering can hold for seniors. In just one study:

  • Nearly half of the seniors said that a year of volunteering improved their health and feelings of well-being.
  • About two-thirds said their volunteer work made them feel less isolated.
  • Most of those who described themselves as solitary said volunteering improved their social lives.
  • The majority of seniors ended their year of volunteer work feeling less depressed than at the outset.

Feeling good about doing good

For some people, the main objective in volunteering is to do good for a cause they believe in.

For example, if education is important to you, you might try volunteering to read to children at one of your public schools. Do you love animals? Call your area Humane Society and volunteer to walk the dogs. (Bonus benefit: You'll get some fun exercise!)

If you're an artist or interested in art, you might serve as a docent at an art museum. If you just have an urge to help people in need, volunteer at your local hospital, food bank or homeless shelter.

Whatever you do, you could get back much more than you give, says Mental Health America. Here's what the experts say about volunteering:

It reduces stress. Making a meaningful connection with other people can reduce stress and anxiety. If the state of the world makes you stressed or sad, channel your frustration by volunteering somewhere that wants to bring about change.

It can make you happy. Research has found that helping others can bring you pleasure, right down to your hormones and brain activity.

It makes you feel useful. This can be especially true for those who have retired or have lost a spouse. Giving to others can take your mind off your own worries and provide a sense of purpose.

It's good for your physical health. Older volunteers tend to walk more, cope better with daily tasks and have a lower mortality rate than those who don't volunteer.

How to get started

It's hard to imagine any benefit coming from volunteer work that you consider a drag. So before signing up, spend some time thinking about what you'd like to do. What are your interests? What do you think you'd enjoy? Are you looking for a brand-new experience, or do you want to offer existing skills to those in need?

Then go online or make some calls. Places you might look include:

  • Community theaters.
  • Museums.
  • Libraries.
  • Senior centers or nursing homes.
  • Service organizations such as the Lions Club.
  • Local animal shelters or wildlife centers.
  • After-school programs or youth organizations.

Make sure you're comfortable with the organization, the work and the time commitment. Research suggests volunteering just two to three hours a week confers the above-mentioned benefits.

If your first choice doesn't work out, that's OK. Try something else. You're bound to find someplace where you can do some good—and do something good for yourself too.

reviewed 10/20/2019

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