Volunteering: How It Improves Health & Where To Find Opportunities

Health + Wellness   |   By HumanGood

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Did you know that adults over 65 do more than a quarter of all volunteer work? Volunteering is real work; the U.S. Census Bureau puts its annual value at more than $122 billion. You probably already know that volunteering can change lives by building homes, cleaning up communities, giving children the support they deserve and ensuring isolated people get medical care, companionship and a chance to get out of their homes.

What you might not know is that volunteering is good for the volunteer too. In fact, The Longitudinal Study of Aging found that volunteers have a greater life expectancy — even when they controlled for other factors linked to life expectancy, such as physical activity and socioeconomic class.

It makes sense when you consider what we already know about healthy living. Relationships are a key predictor of a healthy, longer life and volunteering offers an opportunity to build new relationships and deepen existing ones. How can volunteering benefit you as you age, and what are some of the best volunteer opportunities?


The Health Benefits of Volunteering

Volunteering boasts many benefits, including:

1. Becoming more physically active.

Volunteering can be an incentive to get moving. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring when you’re giving back. Building houses, walking dogs and picking up litter can all help you stay in shape. Exercise is a major predictor of long-term well-being that can prolong your life, reduce your risk of dementia and even reduce chronic pain.

2. Building new and better relationships.

Volunteering is a great way to meet people who care about the things you do. You’ll forge connections with other volunteers and with the people you’re helping. Research consistently finds that social connections help us live longer, happier and fuller lives.

3. Gaining a sense of satisfaction and purpose.

Especially if you’re no longer working or raising children, it can be challenging to sustain a sense of purpose as you age. Volunteering helps you find purpose by giving to others.

4. Changing the world and building a legacy.

One of the greatest legacies you can leave behind is one of giving. Change the world — or just change the world for a single person or animal — by putting your unique talents to good use.

5. Living a happier life.

Volunteering, even when it is hard work, can make you happier. By offering a sense of purpose and building rich connections, volunteering could improve your mental health and quality of life.


What Volunteer Work Is Best for You?

No matter who you are or what you’re into, there’s a volunteer opportunity you’ll love. Consider yourself a loner? Maybe you’ll thrive walking dogs at the local Humane Society or planting trees at a park. Prefer a crowd? Join one to build a house for Habitat for Humanity. If you want a long-term commitment, mentoring a young person could be a great fit, but one-time volunteer opportunities, such as park and highway cleanups, abound.

As you consider your options, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have unique skills I could put to good use? Volunteer organizations almost always need skilled labor.

  • What activities do I enjoy most? You’ll be more likely to keep showing up if you do something you love.

  • How do I work best? Do I need quiet? Alone time? A group to motivate me?

  • What causes do I care most about?


Where To Find Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteer Match is a sort of one-stop shop for volunteer opportunities in your area. The United Way also often has listings. If neither of these strikes your fancy, consider contacting local groups devoted to causes that matter to you — nature organizations, political nonprofits or mentorship organizations, for example. You can also start your own volunteer project or volunteer by giving back to people in need whom you already know.

HumanGood communities welcome volunteers of every variety and background and often coordinate local volunteer projects. Consider reaching out to your local HumanGood community to see what types of volunteer opportunities they partner with or offer and get to know your future neighbors by joining in.

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