Americans volunteer their time in a multitude of ways. They may organize fundraisers, coach Little League, or help someone learn to read—to name just a few. Their work certainly helps others. But did you know it also can improve the volunteers’ quality of life—and even affect their health
Experts say that volunteering is good for people of all ages, but most of the research has focused on older adults. Benefits include higher self-esteem and a greater sense of well-being.
Volunteering may boost physical health, too. Research has found that people who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who don’t. Research also indicates that adults 60 and older who volunteer report higher levels of physical functioning, and lower levels of depression.
Several factors may explain these findings. For example, experts say that meaningful relationships, being productive, and keeping active are vital to healthy aging. Volunteering makes these possible.
Do you love children? Are you a tax wizard? Is baseball your passion? Whatever your skills, chances are, there’s an organization that can put them to good use. Opportunities range from regular commitments to only occasional help.
Don’t worry if you’re not as fast on your feet as you once were. Volunteer work can often be done while you’re sitting down, or even from home. Try these ideas:
Be seated. Plenty of places need someone to sit and greet people, answer phones, or open mail. Try visitors’ centers, hospitals, museums, and nonprofit groups. Disabled people may want to volunteer to sit on decision-making boards and committees.
Help from home. Armed with your telephone, you can be a peer-support counselor. Or you can make clothing for premature babies, or even narrate books for people with visual disabilities.
Try “virtual volunteering.” Leave your disability behind and join the cyber-conversation on the Internet. Offer to be an email pen-pal, tutor, or mentor. If you’re computer-savvy, you can volunteer to design web pages or newsletters.
Whatever you do, volunteering will benefit you and those you help. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”
“Benefits of Volunteering.” Corporation for National & Community Service.
“Building Self-Esteem: A Self-Help Guide.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/SMA-3715/SMA-3715.pdf
“Examples of Virtual Volunteering.” RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service.
"Health Benefits of Volunteering for Seniors. National Senior Service Corps, Cooperation for National Service,
“Potential for Intensive Volunteering to Promote the Health of Older Adults in Fair Health.” Journal of Urban Health,
“Volunteerism, health, and civic engagement among older adults.” Canadian Journal on Aging, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19416800.