VOLUNTEERING FOR MATURE ADULTS
Volunteering helps others & boosts your own health at the same time
When you do good things for others, you do good things for your health. You may also be doing good things for the health of your community, research now shows.
An Ontario study on the health benefits of volunteering reveals that it not only improves self-esteem and combats social isolation, but also reduces the impact of stress on the body, lowering blood pressure and even bolstering the immune system. And in a review of volunteering and mortality among older adults, volunteering was linked to lower mortality rates among the elderly.
Benefits for seniors
Indeed, for older Canadians, volunteering appears to give new meaning to life, reducing anxiety and depression and increasing life satisfaction, writes Dr. Mark J. Yaffe of the Department of Family Medicine at McGill University, Montreal.
Volunteering also helps people deal with the inevitable losses that occur with age, he points out. These include retirement, loss of social contacts, death of friends or relatives, and geographic separation from adult children and grandchildren.
Helps reduce stress
But volunteering doesn't just produce health benefits for the elderly. According to Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson, known for his work on the relaxation response (the body's ability to shift into a deep state of rest), the health benefits of doing good things for others are similar to those experienced by anyone who practices yoga, spirituality and meditation, namely a slowing down of heart rate and a decrease in blood pressure.
The key may lie in the sense of calmness that comes from helping others, also known as the "helper's high". These altruistic feelings reinforce the sense that one's life has a purpose. In turn, this enhances self-esteem, which then provides the motivation for a person to make better lifestyle choices.
Benefits beyond health
Reprinted with the permission of the Canadian Health Network (CHN), a national, bilingual Internet-based health information service on how to stay healthy and prevent disease and injury. This article was prepared for the CHN by Kristin Jenkins, a writer and editor who specializes in health and medicine (www.canadian-health-network.ca).