The surprising wellness benefits of volunteering for seniors

What if you could lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of a hip fracture, and even feel happier, just by doing one thing? And it doesn’t even involve eating more veggies or lifting weights.

Volunteering is the one activity that does all this for seniors—plus much more. Most of us volunteer because we want to help others; it just feels good to make a difference. This warm and fuzzy feeling has been dubbed “helper’s high.” What we haven’t always realized is that feeling good is also good for us, in ways that can improve our health and well-being.

The Rotman Research Institute at Toronto’s Baycrest Health Sciences conducted a comprehensive 2014 review of 73 studies on the effects of volunteering on older adults. What they discovered was surprising:

1.Seniors who volunteer are healthier and live longer. Reduced symptoms of depression, lower blood pressure, fewer hip fractures and physical limitations were just a few of the specific benefits.

2.Seniors with chronic health conditions may benefit the most from volunteering.

3.Seniors who feel appreciated or needed as a volunteer tend to be happier and more socially connected.

The review also found that volunteers needed only 2 to 3 hours a week (about 100 hours per year) to gain health benefits. Any more than that, while recipients or organizations may definitely appreciate the extra time, volunteers don’t necessarily experience any further positive health effects.

Charity money jar

So how do you find the right volunteering opportunity to suit your interests, abilities and schedule? One place to start is Volunteer Canada, a national organization that offers an online tool to help you discover your volunteering style, as well as a list of local volunteer centres.

This past spring, the right volunteering opportunity came along for residents in Chartwell Chatsworth Retirement Residence in Kelowna, B.C. They came together to organize a fundraiser for their local high school football team, which was in danger of disappearing due to a lack of funds. The connection? Some residents had children or grandchildren who attended the school. They happily held a bake sale and knitted team toques for the players.

Part of Chartwell’s H.O.P.E. (Helping Others for Purposeful Engagement) national program, which encourages and supports residents to give back locally or globally, the Chartwell Chatsworth fundraiser was a great success. (And rumour has it that residents are planning a road trip to cheer on their team!)

Learn more about Chartwell’s H.O.P.E program here.