Five Benefits of Volunteering in Retirement

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Link to article in the Chaska Herald

Guest Column by Deb Taylor

Volunteering your time and energy helps strengthen your community, but it also has important emotional and physical benefits.

This month we take a look at how retired adults can reimagine aging through volunteering. With new studies being done, we are finding more and more benefits linked with volunteering, specifically when volunteering after retirement.

According to a study done by the Corporation for National and Community Service, Americans over the age of 60 that volunteered reported lower disability and higher levels of well-being compared to those who did not volunteer.

David Delzer is an avid volunteer in his community. Before retiring he worked for the Veterans Administration as an engineer. In his free time he volunteered as a Cub Master, Sunday school teacher, and served on city of Richfield’s commissions.

Around the time David retired, his dad had a stroke and subsequently ended up having to pay out-of-pocket for his hospital stay. As a Medicare beneficiary, your hospital status (inpatient vs. outpatient) determines what Medicare covers and what your costs will be. This is something Medicare beneficiaries do not always know about.

David decided to become educated on Medicare so this wouldn’t happen again. He became trained in Medicare through Senior Community Services. He took a three-day course on Medicare and insurance counseling in 2005. After training he decided to give back to his community again. He has been volunteering with Senior Community Services since. He enjoys counseling people and helping them make informed decisions.

Below are the top five reasons retired adults should volunteer:

1. Helps bridge generation gap.

By interacting with younger generations, seniors are able to share important life lessons. On the flip side, younger generations are able to teach seniors new ways of looking at life. By building a connection with each other both generations are able to offer the respect and affirmation that humans crave.

2. Volunteering time makes you feel like you have more time.

Giving others your time can make your time feel more affluent. A study done at Wharton College found that people who give their time felt more capable, confident and useful. Since they were able to accomplish one thing, they feel they will easily accomplish tasks in the future. So, even though realistically they have less time, they feel as though they have more time. Similarly, those who donate their money feel like they are wealthier.

3. It’s good for mental health.

Volunteering keeps the brain active, which contributes to a person’s cognitive health. The National Institute on Aging reported that participating in activities that are meaningful and productive may lower the risk of dementia and other health problems in seniors.

4. Helps prevent senior isolation and depression.

While getting out of the house is important at any age, research found that volunteering can have positive effects on a person’s psychological health. In a study done by the Corporation for National and Community Service, researchers found that individuals who engaged in volunteering activities experienced a shorter course of depression than those who did not volunteer. Volunteering provides the senior a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

5. It promotes physical activity.

Physical activity remains an important role in positive health outcomes through the oldest ages. Whether that activity is helping with a local sports team or walking around your neighborhood while volunteering as a companion, maintaining a healthy level of fitness helps fend off diseases as you age.

David believes community is important and what he can do to help the community is just as important. David’s advice to anyone who wants to get out and volunteer but is shy about it is, “do it, do what you can, and learn what you need to know to be helpful.”

However you decide to spend your time volunteering, it’s important to look for opportunities that fit into your schedule. Many retirees find activities that are flexible fit into their schedule best. Other people are able to volunteer 20 hours a week and still have plenty of time to partake in other activities.

Find an activity you’re passionate about. Volunteering is best for all parties involved when you are doing something you enjoy. It’s never too late to get started. Whether you just retired or are in your later years there is an opportunity out there for you.

Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services (www.seniorcommunity.org) and its Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for older adults and helps seniors and caregivers maintain their independence through free or low-cost services.