February 12, 2016

Volunteerism And Your Health: They May Be Connected


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!


Volunteerism is good for everyone (courtesy VSUW)

8 comments:

  1. Bob, this is a fantastic idea! I love the idea of a sort of volunteer collaborative! Please continue to post about your efforts and activities. Perhaps others will replicate in other cities! (Right now, I can imagine public school teachers all over the Phoenix area doing a happy dance!)

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    1. The reading program is in celebration of Dr. Seuss's birthday, which is a great idea. There are schools all over the Valley that are participating for seniors (or anyone) to read to the younger kids, donate books, and hopefully stimulate the youngsters to read more.

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  2. Hi Bob,I am a little bit disappointed about the lack of comments on this post.As being retired we have a lot of time to volunteer and have time to do our own things.There might be a time as well that WE need volunteers to assist us in one way or another.My wife and I do a fair amount of this and it gives satisfaction as well.I hope your readers were busy preparing themselves for Valentines Day and that was the source of not commenting.

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    1. Me, too, Harry. After almost 6 years of these posts I have given up figuring out which posts will generate lots of responses and which ones won't. The ones I expect to have good feedback, like this one, fall flat in terms of responses.

      The good news is lots of people have read it, they just didn't feel compelled to leave a comment. And, you point about how someday we might need a volunteer to help us is important. You are absolutely right.

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  3. Maybe everyone's busy volunteering! The benefits of volunteering have been proven repeatedly. When you cite the preventative health benefits that volunteers engage in, it only makes sense. I think there's a sense of responsibility that comes with volunteering and practising good health habits, including screenings. I think volunteerism presents itself in many forms, i.e. going that extra mile at work, lending a helping hand in what might appear to be insignificant at first glance, putting trash in the garbage can on the street. Is offering a smile to a stranger a form of volunteerism? There are those who turn their volunteerism into a full-time "job". Prior to retiring, I felt a sense of responsibility to my community. That hasn't changed since I retired. In the small community I live in, I notice that it's often the same people volunteering for many organizations. It's easy to get tapped out energy-wise. A topic of conversation at our local rural recreational organization is what makes a volunteer "in good standing". We're often reminded that as volunteers, there are many different levels of involvement and people will do what they can.

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    1. That is an important reminder, Mona: there are different levels of volunteerism. Helping an older neighbor get to an appointment, maybe throwing their newspaper on the porch every morning are small acts that can make a big difference in someone else's life. Volunteering comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

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  4. Good for you, Bob. May you live long and prosper! I, myself, cannot confirm the health benefits of volunteering. But I can confirm the other advantages. As you may remember, I've been volunteering as a tutor at our community college for several years. I love being back on campus; I am energized by the atmosphere in our tutoring center; I truly believe I learn as much from my students as they learn from me; and it's a real eye-opener to interact so closely with people of different ages, backgrounds and socioeconomic situations. So even without any health benefits, I'd recommend to all seniors that they find their volunteering passion -- and then enjoy the ride.

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    1. Of course, there is always mental health to consider. Teaching, mentoring and the like certainly must be a positive force in keeping our minds functioning in a reasonably efficient way.

      Like you, I enjoy wandering around a college campus. Often, it is a pretty place and one can feel the energy.

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