14 June 2020

Another benefit of volunteer work? Science says it can help you live longer

A massive study of people over 50 shows links to driving down mortality rates through volunteering.

  • A study with over 12 000 participants over the age of 50 shows that mortality rates are reduced by 44% when they volunteer for more than 100 hours a year
  • It also improved mobility and increased connections with friends
  • The researchers, however, did not find volunteering to have any impact on chronic conditions

Volunteering isn’t just good for the soul – it can also increase your lifespan.

A study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine analysed data from comprehensive US research involving adults over the age of 50 to see if there’s any correlation between volunteering and physical health, health behaviours and psychosocial wellbeing.

READ: Even a little activity keeps ageing brains from shrinking

They chose 34 indicators that signify what it means to age well – how it affects things like life satisfaction, optimism, physical activity, depression and chronic conditions.

With over 12 000 participants over the span of four years, they found that those who volunteered for more than 100 hours a year – about 2 hours a week – had a 44% reduced mortality risk, a 17% reduced risk of mobility issues and 12% increased physical activity. 

'A means to stay young'

The volunteering heroes were also less hopeless, had more of a purpose in life and felt less lonely. They were also 29% less likely not to be in regular contact with their friends. 

However, the study did not find volunteering to have any impact on chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and arthritis, certain behaviours like drinking and smoking, and other indicators like depression and connection with family. 

ALSO SEE: Worried about ageing? Scientists discover 4 distinct ageing patterns

This contradicts earlier studies, although the researchers noted that it could be due to the study’s missing "cause of death" statistics of participants. 

Previous studies on health and volunteering also tended to be limited in sample size and skewed towards younger subjects. 

It concludes that volunteering could prevent a decline in quality in life as we get older, help the psyche and make us more resilient to stress factors. 

The art of helping in our communities is also something that physicians could potentially prescribe to older patients who are willing and able as a means to "stay young". 

However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, those that fall in the high-risk age category need to be careful with activities outside their homes – including helping their fellow humans.

Image credit: Getty Images


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