Why Volunteering is Good for You

volunteer senior health

by Paul Gach, Visiting Angels 

What do you consider the most important aspects of good heath? A good diet? Definitely! Some sort of physical exercise? Absolutely! However, we often overlook two very important elements: mind stimulation and brain exercise.

When we are young, school does its part to keep both of these things in check. As we get a little older, our jobs, families and activities keep our cognitive functions advancing. However, as we begin to reach retirement age, we slow down. The slower pace usually means less personal contact and communication with people. No longer working in a job means fewer decisions and thought processes throughout the day. While we certainly deserve the break at retirement, we must be aware that our mind and brain needs activity to stay healthy.

Volunteer activities can be incredibly mind stimulating for seniors. In particular, those activities that achieve learning, encourage interaction with others, create smiles and laughter, promote confidence, or essentially any activity that draws out feelings or emotions that would otherwise be absent.

Where to find volunteer opportunities suitable for your loved one? Check within the community, local senior centers, churches and non-profit organizations for ideas. This is a wonderful way to accomplish mind stimulation on many levels. This gratifying mission could be a great way to encourage communication with others and allow the use of their minds and hands to help. It also does wonders for their confidence. The heartwarming results of volunteering are limitless too!

Consider activities that link to their former jobs or hobbies. My father-in-law was a cabinetmaker and after he “retired” he volunteered at the town’s museum by building display cases. Also, consider routinely volunteering to read to children in schools or churches. The National Institute on Aging says that research of older people with an active lifestyle could have the following benefits:

  • Are less likely to develop certain disease. Participating in hobbies and other social and leisure pursuits may lower risk for developing health problems including dementia.
  • Have a longer life span. One study showed that older adults who reported taking part in social activities (such as playing games, belonging to social groups) or meaningful, productive activities (such as having a paid or unpaid job, or gardening) lived longer than people who did not.
  • Are happier and less depressed. Studies suggest that older adults who participate in what they believe are meaningful activities like volunteering in their communities; say they feel happier and healthier. One study placed older adults from an urban community in their neighborhood public elementary schools to tutor children 15 hours a week. Volunteers reported personal satisfaction from the experience. The researchers found it improved the volunteers’ cognitive and physical health, as well as the children’s school success. They think it might also have long-term benefits, lowering the older adults’ risk of developing a disability and dementia in later life.
  • Are better prepared to cope with loss. Studies suggest that volunteering can help with stress and depression from the death of a spouse. Among people who experienced a loss, those who took part in volunteer activities felt more positive about their own abilities.

Mind stimulation and brain exercise is critical at any age. In our younger years we naturally get more exposure to events that stimulate our brain. However, as we grow older and our lives begin to slow down, so does our connection to activities that keep our brain young. Seniors should consciously do something each day that will not only exercise their body, but also stimulate and exercise the brain. It doesn’t have to be life altering. It doesn’t need to cost a lot of money; it just needs to be energizing for the brain.

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