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Older adult wellness: purpose through volunteering

Published: Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 11:07 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014 11:37 a.m. CDT
(Metro Creative Connection)
Individuals who remain active and social through volunteering report a stronger sense of life satisfaction.

Our American stereotype of retirement often is associated with lazy days with empty agendas. This third phase of life holds the potential to be more fulfilling if it includes one key element — volunteering. Though it may be tempting to declare the years of reporting for duty over, giving back boosts well-being. 

While many people aim to reach the day where they no longer work, older people who volunteer report a stronger sense of life satisfaction. Volunteering connects individuals to a purpose greater than themselves. There’s health benefits, too.

In a 2006 research study from the Corporation for National & Community Service, findings show volunteering provides older persons (those age 60 and older), with greater benefits than younger volunteers. These benefits include improved physical and mental health and greater life satisfaction. 

People around the world with the longest lifespans  have been putting this principle into practice for many years. On the Nicoyan peninsula in Costa Rica, they call this sense of purpose “plan de vida” while people in Okinawa, Japan label it “ikigai.” The Nicoyan peninsula and Okinawa stand as two of the five Blue Zones identified by author and researcher, Dan Buettner. 

The Blue Zones are healthy hotspots around the world where people often live high quality, healthy lives up to and past 100 years old. In his search for the longest living, healthiest people around the planet, Buettner detected a trend that people living more than 100 years often carried on meaningful action well after their normal “working” years. 

Not only does volunteering connect one person to a bigger picture, but volunteering also creates a social network of support. Through the giving of time and energy, volunteers meet new faces that easily become friends. While a strong social network adds another perk to retirement, it also proves beneficial in times of coping with life changes.

To make the most of new found free time, consider giving back by volunteering. Check local churches, schools, animal rescue leagues, or retirement communities for opportunities. Even just a few hours each week can improve overall well-being. Don’t delay in living a fulfilling retirement. Whether you get plugged into a familiar organization or  discover a fresh way to give back with your time and energy, enrich your post-working years by volunteering.  

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