As regular readers of Satisfying Journey might remember, last fall I was invited to become a member of a steering committee charged with developing a new initiative of the Phoenix area United Way (Valley of the Sun United Way). Realizing that retirees are strongly motivated to use time and talents to benefit others, Retire United was launched to develop a coordinated way for folks to volunteer and support United Way.
It has been an exciting several months. After a few organizational meetings, the committee has begun to take concrete steps to make Retire United an important force for good in our community. Public events that showcase volunteer opportunities as well as provide basic educational seminars about the challenges and opportunities of retirement are being scheduled. A valley-wide in-school reading event happens next month.
A recent Harvard University research study supports the benefits of volunteerism. Besides making one feel useful and satisfied, there appear to be direct, positive health effects from giving of one's time and abilities. Mei Cobb, who is United Way's Director of volunteer and employee engagement at the organizational headquarters in Washington, summarized the results in a recent newsletter.
She notes that "although numerous studies have shown that volunteering is linked with better mental health, physical health and health behaviors, new research from the Chan School of Public Health went one step further and asked: are volunteers more likely to practice preventive healthcare, go on fewer doctor visits and spend fewer nights in the hospital?
The report found that volunteers are more likely to engage in preventive health care than non-volunteers. For example, volunteers were 30% more likely to receive flu shots and 47% more likely to receive cholesterol tests. While volunteering was not associated with frequency of doctor visits, the research did find that volunteers spent 38% fewer nights in the hospital.
The [gentleman] who lead the study suggests volunteering increases social connections, which have been linked to better health for a wide range of reasons. For example, people can share and receive information about things like where to buy healthy foods at the best prices or remind one another of which health screenings to get.
People can also provide and receive support, such as sharing resources like rides to medical appointments. Social networks also provide emotional and psychological support, and that leads to better health. Volunteering also increases a sense of purpose in life, which has been seen to be a driving factor in a healthier lifestyle."
Frankly, I am not surprised that helping others may directly help you stay healthy and active. I found a real passion and purpose in prison ministry. Deciding to change direction and follow a new path, I am so happy I had the opportunity to become part of Retire United. I am excited by the potential to help fellow retirees find that special connection that brings fulfillment and a new sense of purpose....maybe even better health!