Some more good news about volunteering during these trying times: volunteering not only helps others; it can also help us live longer.
A recent Harvard University study found “strong associations between volunteering and favorable health and well-being outcomes.” Focused on U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the research shows that study participants who volunteered for about two hours a week annually had a reduced risk of dying and developed fewer physical limitations than non-volunteers. Positive psychosocial outcomes, like being optimistic, were shown to be higher among volunteers as well. While the research doesn’t point to volunteering’s impact on specific diseases, the findings support results from other studies about the overall health benefits of helping others.
For example, in this Washington Post story Jim Webster explains how he felt after a day of packing meals for people in need. He describes “physical pain from a day of manual labor, but also a sense of accomplishment, of purpose. It was an unexpected high ... I felt less stressed the rest of the week, and more focused. None of that was what I signed up for. But I’ll take it.”
Temporary discomfort aside, this sounds like a “favorable health outcome” to me! And isn’t it wonderful to know that World Central Kitchen has found a way to safely mobilize large numbers of volunteers and contract workers for the essential work of feeding people struggling to get by.
So, along with handwashing, face masks and other necessary precautions, let’s add volunteering to the healthy habits we practice during this challenging time. If meal-packing is not for you, virtual volunteering is a great way to give back. Even at-risk, older adults have continued to volunteer during the pandemic. They know what Harvard knows. Volunteering is good for our health.