Consider Volunteering -- It's Good For You!
So as a 50+ adult you’re thinking, “What does this have to do with me?” Child and teen years, of course, are times of physical, mental and emotional growth, of identity formation, of determining where one fits in, and a journey filled with learning how to deal with challenges, obstacles and disappointments – and successes.
Fast forward four or so decades. Those over the age of 50 certainly have formed their identities and discovered multiple ways to celebrate – and cope with – all that the years have offered. Yet, as with childhood and for those over 50, lives are changing. Family dynamics have evolved as parents have aged or passed, children are grown and no longer living at home.
Siblings and friends may have moved far away – or you have. Strains and sprains take longer to heal, and maybe your blood pressure is a little higher than it was when you were 30. Careers are winding down or have ended. All of these can produce anxiety as mature adults look ahead to a range of changes and question what to do with their time and how to apply their talents. Looking at the years past 50 as those of growth and opportunity, rather than stagnation or decline, can enhance and enliven these years.
The Five Promises are all vital components of emotional, intellectual and physical strength, and buoyancy and are as applicable to those over 50 as to youth. There are many reasons that people choose to volunteer, for example -- the “help others,” Promise #5, such as:
- Improving society and community life
- Empowering change and allowing the volunteer to be a change agent while benefiting others
In addition, there are multiple reasons that also enhance the other four promises, such as:
- Sharing and honing skills
- Feeling needed
- Getting to know a community
- Demonstrating commitment to a cause/belief
- Gaining leadership skills
- Getting satisfaction from accomplishment
- Being challenged and recognized
- Having an impact
- Learning something new
- Making new friends; being part of a team
- Exploring a career
- Doing something different from your job
- Having fun
The benefits of volunteering are clear whether one chooses to do so occasionally or on a regular basis -- at a hospital/health center, a non-profit organization, school, government office, food pantry or shelter, with a special interest group or through a religious institution. Volunteering connects individuals and builds networks in situations and spaces where the volunteer is welcome and integral. Thus the interaction with others, sense of purpose and control, serving in a situation that feels safe and welcoming, and acquiring and retaining knowledge all are empowering to those who volunteer.
Of particular interest to mature adults -- as bodies change and physical issues can become more challenging -- is the sense of personal accomplishment gained from voluntary service, which has been documented to have direct physical, mental and emotional health benefits. A study released by the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2007 showed that, while all who volunteer derive benefits, older adults were the most likely to do so. Mature adults who volunteered had:
- Greater longevity
- Higher functioning ability
- Lower rates of depression
- Less incidence of heart disease
These gains were shown to occur in those who volunteered as little as 40 hours per year. Volunteering has also been shown to assist with weight loss, help relieve stress and lower blood pressure. Older adults who give their time and talent can sustain and grow meaningful adult relationships, cultivate a sense of safe places, assist in retaining, strengthening and learning information and skills, and sustain and improve emotional, mental and physical health.
So if you are already volunteering, continue to do so and enjoy! If not, consider trying it! Talk with the folks at Encore, contact the local volunteer center or go on line to explore your areas of interest. The 5 Promises are not only a “kid thing;” they are for you, too.
Karen McKnight Casey
Volunteer & Director Emerita, Academic Service-Learning and Center for Service- Learning and Civic Engagement, Michigan State University
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-third-age/201403/5-reasons-why-you-should-volunteer; (http://www.serviceleader.org/volunteers/why); http://www.whyguides.com/why-is-volunteering-important.html;