Looking to chase away the winter blues? Interested in staying active after retirement? Need a boost to your health? Try volunteering at your church or a neighborhood organization for a few hours a week — it could do you a world of good.
Just two hours of volunteering a week can have a positive effect on the overall well-being of older Americans, according to a study from the George Warren Brown (GWB) School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, shows that voluntarism is very common among older adults.
“We found that 34.5 percent of adults over 60 reported that they volunteered an average of 71.5 hours a year,” says Fengyan Tang, a doctoral student at GWB and one of the co-authors of the study.
The researchers found that older adults who volunteered had better assessments than non-volunteers on three measures of well-being: daily functioning, self-rated health and self-rated depression. Volunteering 100 hours a year, or nearly 2 hours a week, may produce the best results for older Americans, notes Tang.
“Volunteering has an effect beyond increasing social connections for older Americans,” she adds. “More important than the social aspect of volunteering is that the volunteer role may augment power, prestige and resources, and it might heighten the sense of identity.”
Nancy Morrow-Howell, professor of social work at GWB, led the study. The other co-authors are Jim Hinterlong, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work at Florida State University, and Philip Rozario, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work at Adelphi University. Hinterlong and Rozario were GWB graduate students at the time the study was conducted.
The study is based on an analysis of the Americans’ Changing Lives Study (ACL). The ACL is a national longitudinal survey of 3,617 U.S. individuals interviewed three times since 1986.
“The positive impact of volunteering reached a maximum at 100 hours per year,” Tang says. The study also found that the type or location of volunteering did not impact the results of the assessments.
“It does not matter where older adults are volunteering, it just matters that they are,” says Tang. “And the positive effect of voluntarism runs across all races and genders.”