7 ways doing good revitalizes health and well-being

Excerpt: Older adults who do volunteer work to help others, such as mentoring children in need, aiding refugees or addressing climate change enjoy better health and find meaning and purpose in daily life. Doing good through formal or informal volunteering lifts mood, protects the heart, preserves memory, and reduces dementia risk. Volunteering also helps to ease stress, anxiety, and chronic pain, reduce disability risk, and add years to life.

World Humanitarian Day* is observed on August 19. Older adults who volunteer – whether it’s mentoring children in need, helping people displaced by forest fires, floods, or other emergencies, sponsoring and aiding refugees, supporting vulnerable seniors, or addressing climate change – experience the emotional rewards of giving their time, energy and expertise.

Research also shows that people who actively engage in formal or informal volunteer work enjoy better health and well-being, and gain a stronger sense of meaning and purpose, according to McMaster University.* Here are some of the positive health benefits that can be gained by doing good and helping others:

  1. Lift mood. People who volunteer show reduced symptoms of depression and their mood improves through stronger social connections,* reported a Journal of Social and Personal Relationships study of volunteers from 15 countries. A University of Toronto study found people who helped others during the COVID-19 pandemic through acts of kindness eased depression and had better mental health.*
  2. Protect your heart. Older adults who volunteer regularly are 40% less likely to develop high blood pressure,* according to a Carnegie Mellon University study. People with a high sense of purpose in life also have a lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke,* reported a Psychosomatic Medicine study.
  3. Ease chronic pain. Older women living with chronic pain who participated in volunteer activities reported feeling less pain and a stronger sense of purpose,* according to a Pain Management Nursing study. People who volunteered to give blood after an earthquake and those who gave their time to revise a handbook for the children of migrant workers experienced less pain,* reported a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study.
  4. Strengthen memory and reduce dementia risk. A University of Calgary study found that seniors who volunteered at least one hour a week were about 2.5 times less likely to develop dementia.* Older women who did formal volunteering improved their working memory and processing over time,* reported a study in The Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences.
  5. Reduces stress and anxiety. Volunteering lowers stress and anxiety, especially for people 65 and older, and increases positive, relaxing feelings by releasing the brain chemical dopamine,* according to Mayo Clinic.
  6. Boost longevity. A 2020 Harvard University study found older adults who help others for about two hours a week are more likely to be physically active and 44% less likely to die prematurely.*
  7. Lower disability risk. Older adults who volunteered regularly had a reduced risk of developing chronic health conditions leading to physical disability,* reported a Florida State University study.

At Chartwell Retirement Residences, residents have opportunities to make a positive difference in their local communities and the global community at large through our signature H.O.P.E. (Helping Others for Purposeful Engagement) program.

*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:

  1. United Nations. “World Humanitarian Day.” (2022), online https://www.un.org/en/observances/humanitarian-day
  2. McMaster University. “Volunteers: Artisans of health and well-being.” (2022), online: https://www.mcmasteroptimalaging.org/blog/detail/blog/2022/03/23/volunteers-artisans-of-health-and-well-being
  3. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. “Study: Volunteering is linked to reduced depression via increased social connectedness.” (2018), online: https://www.psypost.org/2018/10/study-volunteering-is-linked-to-reduced-depression-via-increased-social-connectedness-52440
  4. University of Toronto. “How far does a little kindness go? University of Toronto researcher examples how doing good improves mental health.” (2022), online: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/how-far-does-little-kindness-go-u-t-researcher-examines-how-doing-good-improves-mental-health
  5. Carnegie Mellon University. “Volunteering reduces risk of hypertension in older adults, Carnegie Mellon study show.” (2013), online:https://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2013/june/june13_volunteeringhypertension.html#:~:text=New%20research%20from%20Carnegie%20Mellon%20University%20shows%20that,hypertension%2C%20or%20high%20blood%20pressure%2C%20by%2040%20percent.
  6. Harvard University. “The many ways volunteering is good for your heart.” (2016), online: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/many-ways-volunteering-good-heart-201606039726#:~:text=What%20you%20might%20not%20realize%2C%20however%2C%20is%20that,the%20Harvard%20T.H.%20Chan%20School%20of%20Public%20Health.
  7. Pain Management Nursing. “The mediating and moderating effect of volunteering on pain and depression, life purpose, well-being, and physical activity.” (2017), online:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28601476/#:~:text=Moderation%20by%20volunteering%20was%20found%20between%20pain%20and,%C2%A9%202017%20American%20Society%20for%20Pain%20Management%20Nursing.
  8. CNN. “Volunteering and other good deeds reduce physical pain, a study finds.” (2019), online: https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/30/health/volunteering-reduces-pain-wellness/index.html
  9. Medical Express. “Volunteering can reduce dementia risk in seniors.” (2017), online: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-05-volunteering-dementia-seniors.html
  10. Journals of Gerontology: Social Sciences. “Longitudinal associations between formal volunteering and cognitive functioning.” (2017), online: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28958028/
  11. Mayo Clinic. “Helping people, changing lives: 3 health benefits of volunteering.” (2021), online: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/3-health-benefits-of-volunteering#:~:text=By%20spending%20time%20in%20service%20to%20others%2C%20volunteers,heart%20disease%2C%20stroke%2C%20depression%2C%20anxiety%20and%20general%20illness.
  12. Daily Mail. “Volunteering is good for you! People who sacrifice their time in later life to help others are more physically active and almost 50% less likely to die early.” (2020), online: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8408749/Volunteers-sacrifice-time-help-50-cent-likely-die-early.html
  13. Science Daily. “Working, volunteering could reduce disablement in seniors, study finds.” (2016), online: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160808120456.htm