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Volunteering is Healthy for Body as Well as Mind

Older people who volunteer are getting not only an emotional boost – it’s also benefiting their health.

A study led by researchers from the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health services analyzed data from 73 studies over the past 45 years. The studies involved adults over 50 who were involved in formal volunteering roles.

Lead investigator Dr. Nicole Anderson said that the goal of the study was “to obtain a more comprehensive view of the current state of knowledge on the benefits of volunteering among older adults.We discovered a number of trends in the results that paint a compelling picture of volunteering as an important lifestyle component for maintaining health and wellbeing in later years.”

The reviews examined by the researchers included physical, psychological and/or cognitive outcomes linked to formal volunteering. Specifically, the studies measured the degree of happiness, physical health, depression, cognitive functioning, feelings of social support and life satisfaction.

Investigators found that volunteering was linked with reduced symptoms of depression, better overall health, fewer functional limitations, and greater longevity.

However, more doesn’t mean better. The researchers found that the most beneficial amount of time spent volunteering appeared to be about two to three hours a week.

More vulnerable seniors (i.e. those with chronic health conditions) may benefit the most from volunteering.

“Taken together, these results suggest that volunteering is associated with health improvements and increased physical activity – changes that one would expect to offer protection against a variety of health conditions,” Anderson said. Earlier research has shown that volunteering seems to be related to lower blood pressure and fewer hip fractures.

The team called for studies examining the relationship between volunteering and the risk of dementia.

The findings were published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

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