Can Volunteering Help You Live Longer?

Volunteering is often recommended for older adults looking to become more active in their communities, but are there health benefits as well?   It does according to Stephanie Brown and her colleagues.   Brown, an associate professor at Stony Brook University’s Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics, has been at the forefront of research examining the psychosocial benefits of volunteering, especially for older adults. 

Though volunteering can cover a wide variety of ways that people can help others,  the most typical way that people become volunteers is through formal volunteer agencies or organizations.    The nature of the cause, whether it focuses on specific people or the community at large, tends not to matter as much as the spirit of volunteering itself.   

The actual percentage of people who donate time to volunteer organizations tends to remain relatively stable.   According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 64.5 million people volunteered through or for an organization at least once in 2012 (26.5 per cent of the total U.S. population).   Though women tend to be more likely to volunteer than men across all age groups, the overall volunteer rate tends to taper off as people grow older with people between 35 and 44 being most likely to volunteer.

Still, volunteers come from all segments of society and all ages and their unpaid labour easily runs into billions of hours each year.   But what are the benefits of volunteering, especially for older volunteers?     According to Stephanie Brown and her colleagues, evolutionary psychology suggests that helping behaviour can have definite benefits which improve the psychological and physical well-being of the helper as well as the ones being helped.   

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today post.


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