Baby Boomers are living longer lives than their predecessors, but not necessarily healthier lives, according to a study that warns of rising health care costs. The oldest of the Boomers, nearing 70, are looking for ways to reverse this trend.
The good news is that they – and even children being born today – can look forward to an active, healthy and independent lifestyle even later in life, by volunteering. Not that volunteering is the answer for all ills, but given the findings regarding health benefits of volunteering, making time to give back may help individuals to maintain their independence as they grow older and will likely face increased health challenges.
According to The Health Benefits of Volunteering from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), in general, volunteers report greater life satisfaction and better physical health than do non-volunteers, and their life satisfaction and physical health improves at a greater rate as a result of volunteering. At the same time, older volunteers experience greater increases in life satisfaction and greater positive changes in their perceived health as a result of their volunteer activities than do younger volunteers.
Volunteering helps give our life meaning and purpose. This has a positive effect on our psyche and outlook, which is directly related to lowering our risk of poor physical health. The CNCS study also states that “Those who give support through volunteering experience greater health benefits than those who receive support through these activities.” And, as noted in an earlier blog on a related topic people suffered less from chronic pain and depression when they began to serve as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain. Even when controlling for other factors such as age, health, and gender, research has found that when individuals volunteer, they are more likely to live longer.
It really is better to give than to receive.
The number of volunteers age 65 and older – the age typically associated with retirement -- will reach about 13 million in 2020. That number will continue to rise as the 77 million Baby Boomers retire. If we engage Baby Boomers and others in substantial volunteer experiences, we may not only help solve community problems, but simultaneously enhance the health of the growing number of older adults.
I hope you’ll take action to volunteer today. Your local United Way can help you find a great opportunity, or perhaps connect you with Senior Corps and AARP Experience Corps programs in your community. We’d love to hear how volunteering improved a life: yours.