Volunteering: It’s Good for Your Health

Giving back can improve brain functions, overall well-being

Retirement often brings coveted free time for many seniors who have spent the majority of their lives juggling family, careers, and other responsibilities. Many seniors also desire purposeful ways to fill this sudden influx of freedom, and one of the most gratifying avenues is volunteering. Not only does volunteering benefit communities and help worthy organizations subsist, but it can also have a profound mental and physical impact on volunteers themselves.

Studies have shown that volunteering can:

Lower mortality rate: A study that appeared in the Journals of Gerontology indicated that “those who gave social support to others had lower rates of mortality than those who did not, even when controlling for socioeconomic status, education, marital status, age, gender, and ethnicity.”

Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease: Volunteers often report a greater satisfaction and quality of life than non-volunteers, and researchers from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago conducted a study that revealed “individuals who report a greater purpose in their lives appear less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or its precursor, mild cognitive impairment.”
Improve brain functions: Another study tracked women ages 65 and older who volunteered in Baltimore schools. Participants were examined, including via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), prior to volunteering and again six months later. Researchers discovered that “older adults participating … made gains in key brain regions that support cognitive abilities important to planning and organizing one’s daily life.”

Prevent frailty: Researchers at UCLA sought to determine if “productive activities – specifically volunteering, paid work and child care – prevent the onset of frailty. This condition is marked by weight loss, low energy and strength, and low physical activity.” The researches tracked 1,072 healthy adults ages 70-79 and found that, “After three years, participants in all three activities were found to be less likely to become frail. After accounting for levels of physical and cognitive function, however, only volunteering was associated with lower rates of frailty.”

Volunteering can also pay immediate dividends by increasing sense of accomplishment and purpose, improving social skills, and helping people stay connected to the world around them.

How to get involved:

Opportunities to volunteer are endless. Helpguide.org offers a few key suggestions while searching for a suitable volunteer position. The first is to identify your volunteer preferences. Do you like to work with people or behind the scenes? How much time are you willing to volunteer and what type of role would you like to take on? Next, determine your skills and the causes that interest you. Helpguide.org offers the following list of places to find volunteer opportunities:

Community theaters, museums, and monuments
Libraries, schools, and senior centers
Retirement communities

Service organizations, such as Lions clubs or Rotary clubs
Youth organizations, sports teams, and after-school programs
Historical organizations and national parks
Places of worship such as churches or synagogues

The following databases may also help you locate volunteer opportunities in your area:

Volunteer Match

Volunteering at Housing and Urban Development


Network for Good 

Volunteer Solutions by Truist

1-800-Volunteer (865-868-337)

Once you’ve identified a volunteer opportunity, be sure to ask the organizers any questions you may have and pay a visit to the organization, or place your wish to volunteer, in order to determine if the position is ideal for you.

Finding the ideal opportunity will ensure you are getting the most out of your experience. Most importantly, remember that volunteering should be an enjoyable endeavor. When you take pleasure in giving to others, the rewards are often twofold.