Older Adults Who Volunteer are Happier and Healthier, Study

First Posted: Aug 30, 2014 06:03 AM EDT

A new study reveals that older adults who remain active by volunteering are much happier and healthier.

Researchers at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences looked at the data available on the psychological health benefits older adults receive from formal volunteering. They evaluated 73 studies that were published over 45 years and involved adults aged 50 years and above. All these adults were in formal volunteering roles.

They found that adults involved in volunteering received more benefits that just an altruistic feeling. The health benefits increase at 100 volunteer hours annually or 2-3 hours per week for older adults.

They considered the studies that measured the psychological, physical and cognitive outcomes that was linked with formal volunteering. This included happiness, physical health, depression, cognitive functioning, feelings of social support and life satisfaction.

"Our goal was to obtain a more comprehensive view of the current state of knowledge on the benefits of volunteering among older adults," said Dr. Anderson, a senior scientist with Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute and associate professor, University of Toronto. "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 researchers observed that adults involved in volunteering experienced a drop in symptoms of depression, enhanced overall health, lesser functional restrictions and boost in longevity. Adults with chronic health conditions benefit the most from volunteering. The relationship between volunteering and psychological well-being strengthens when the adults feel appreciated or feel needed.

"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," said Dr. Anderson. "Indeed, a moderate amount of volunteering has been shown to be related to less hypertension and fewer hip fractures among seniors who volunteer compared to their matched non-volunteering peers."

Since not many studies have looked at the benefits of volunteering on the cognitive functioning of older adults, the researchers suggest that investigators should try and include more objective measures of cognitive functioning in future studies.

The finding was documented in the Psychological Bulletin.

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