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Volunteering May Boost Longevity, Mental Health in Adults Over 50

Jun 16, 2020

The American Psychiatric Association issued the following news release:

Volunteering at least two hours a week may increase longevity and improve mental health in adults over age 50, suggests a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“The growing older adult population possesses a vast array of skills and experiences that can be leveraged for the greater good of society via volunteering,” wrote Eric S. Kim, Ph.D., of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues.

“[P]olicies and interventions aimed at encouraging more volunteering might be an innovative way of simultaneously enhancing society and fostering a trajectory of healthy aging.”

To arrive at their conclusion, the researchers studied data from approximately 13,000 participants in the Health and Retirement Study, a large, ongoing study of adults aged 50 years and older in the United States that began in 2006.

Study researchers interview participants upon their enrollment, after which the participants complete a questionnaire about various aspects of their health.

One question asks the participants whether they had spent any time in the previous 12 months doing volunteer work for religious, educational, health-related, or other charitable organizations, and if so, how much time the participants devote to their volunteer activities.

During the four-year follow-up, participants who volunteered 100 hours a year or more had a 44% lower risk of dying and a 17% lower risk of limitations in their physical functioning than those who did not volunteer. They also had higher positive affect, optimism, and sense of purpose in life and lower depressive symptoms, hopelessness, and loneliness than those who did not volunteer. There was no evidence that volunteering was associated with other outcomes such as the number of chronic conditions participants had or whether volunteering was associated with life satisfaction.