As you try to make good on your New Year's resolution to be healthier, make sure that volunteering is a regular part of your routine. Research from several studies shows that older Americans who volunteer live longer and report having a higher quality of life compared to those who do not.
The Journal of Psychology and Aging reports that volunteering regularly reduces depression and increases overall satisfaction in life for older adults. Comorbidity of depression and cardiovascular disease has long been suspected and studies from the past 15 years now prove that depression negatively impacts the course of multiple cardiovascular conditions and also hinders patients' compliance with taking prescribed medication and secondary prevention measures.
Another study published in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine reports that volunteering can mitigate the increased incidence of mortality in those who have functional limitations. The study surveyed 916 non-institutionalized adults 65 years old and older who lived in the United States. After a six-year period mortality data from the National Death Index was cross-referenced with the survey sample to reveal that, "functional limitations were associated with an increased risk of dying only among participants who never or almost never volunteered, suggesting that volunteering buffers the association between functional limitations and mortality."
A quick search of medical journals will yield more than a dozen similar studies all pointing to the same results. It's important to note that most of the research does focus on older adults who volunteer at least 100 hours a year, which is about one day a month.
Now you might say that these studies are coming to false conclusions; that perhaps the causal relationship is reversed and those who volunteer do so because they are in fact in good health. Perhaps, but think back to the last time you volunteered. Remember that feeling you had when someone you were helping thanked you or gave you a hug? It feels amazing and I'm convinced that there is a chemical change that occurs in the body when you help others.
In November I wrote about how volunteering provides services that might make the difference whether others live or die. Who knew that in addition to saving someone else's life, you might just be saving your own! Don't let your resolution to be healthier slip through your fingers, get out there and volunteer.
Want to volunteer and don't know where to start? Check out Create the Good for ideas and opportunities in your local community!