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Volunteerism’s Health Benefits

In July 2007, we reported on the number of baby boomers hitting retirement age. (In fact, consider that one-fourth of the American population is made up of this group — the largest cohort in the country’s history.) The oldest baby boomers began turning 60 in 2006, and their average life expectancy is estimated to be 83. With this large influx of retirees, nonprofits stand to make large gains in their number of volunteers. However, according to recent research, it’s not just the organizations that will enjoy the benefits of boomer efforts.

Medical Evidence Supporting this Theory

A recent literature review by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) reveals that boomers may, in turn, gain many health advantages from their volunteer Volunteerism Health Benefitsexperiences. The review shows that benefits include better mental health; reduced risks for high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety; and longer life expectancy. The study further explains that adults over 60 are likely to experience the greatest degree of benefits. It seems that boomers will continue to see the health perks of volunteerism as they age. A study by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions backs CNCS claims. This research focused on older individuals who volunteered to help children in a reading program. The results showed that:

  • After completing the program, 44 percent of participants felt stronger, compared to only 18 percent of the control group.
  • Falls decreased for the volunteer group, and the usage of canes for walking assistance dropped by 50 percent in the volunteer group, while the control group only experienced a 20 percent drop.
  • Volunteers experienced an increase in social activity, while the control group saw a decline.

Surprising Findings

The most astonishing fact of this study was that only 11 percent said they volunteered to improve their own lives, and only two percent were trying to be more active. Even though participants were in the program for altruistic reasons, they benefited just the same. To spark additional interest, nonprofits may do well to consider highlighting volunteerism’s health benefits when recruiting baby boomers and older adults. This could be especially effective, since a 2006 survey of American seniors released by SecureHorizon shows that among seniors’ top concerns are sustaining their health and mobility as well as continuing an active lifestyle. As researcher Dr. Mark Yaffe states, “Volunteering may produce a ‘win-win’ situation. Society benefits and the person volunteering may personally benefit. What a perfect prescription for health promotion and maintenance.”

Volunteerism Beneficial for All Ages

Although the studies cited above honed in on benefits for older adults, the rewards aren’t just for those over 60. Studies suggest that volunteering at a younger age can be a preventative method, possibly warding off future health difficulties. This, coupled with the benefit of an increase in self esteem and confidence that comes with completing projects, makes helping others a good idea for all ages. For more information on Baby Boomers and volunteerism, see our blog article: Is Your Organization Ready for “The Boom?”

Headshot of Shawn Kendrick

About Shawn Kendrick

Shawn Kendrick holds an MBA from Ohio Dominican University and has over a decade’s experience in the nonprofit and business sectors. He enjoys researching and blogging for VolunteerHub, a cloud-based volunteer management system that offers online registration, email and text messaging, report generation, and much more.

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