Volunteering linking health benefits with older Australians
Access a range of insights on the goodness of volunteering
This section looks at a range of helpful links on volunteering, as well as insights and information on the benefits of volunteering.
60+Club are strong advocates for volunteering, particular around the benefits for the person giving up their own time, as well as providing benefit for those on the receiving end. It also lends itself to the keeping social and meeting new people, which is a great step in maintaining good health and reducing loneliness and depression.
For some time, researchers have been measuring the benefits of giving, and their findings reveal that giving and volunteering help reduce stress and depression. They also promote healthy social connections and a sense of purpose. Experts suggest that giving is just as important to maintaining health as avoiding tobacco and obesity.
Volunteering for older Australians
Giving is not only good for our spirit, it is also good for our health. Medical studies have shown link between our level of generosity and our physical wellbeing. People with chronic illnesses who give experience are happier, and, in many cases, healthier. Helping others can even help you to live longer. Generosity is the glue that bonds us to others. It connects us to friends, family and colleagues. It boosts happiness, increases health and strengthens communities.
Lower blood pressure, lower risk of dementia, less anxiety and depression, reduced cardiovascular risk, and overall greater happiness. These are the benefits of giving, according to recent studies.
How much did Australians volunteer?
An estimated 43.7% of adult Australians volunteered a total of 932 million hours in the 12 months prior to when surveyed in 2016. On average, volunteers gave 134 hours of their time over 12 months in 2015-16* or about 2.5 hours a week. The median number of hours volunteered annually was 55 hours (half did more and half did less).
*Participants were surveyed over February to September 2016 about giving in the 12 months prior
Where do people volunteer?
The most common cause areas people volunteered for were:
- Primary and secondary education: 21%
- Sports: 20%
- Religion: 18%
- Health (inc. medical research): 17%
- Social services: 16%
- Emergency relief: 11%
those aged 65 years and over are most likely to volunteer for religious causes, followed by health and social services.
Reasons for volunteering
Key reasons people volunteer:
- personal satisfaction
- connection to community
- practical benefit (e.g. to gain skills)
- keep busy when no longer working
- mental health benefits
- family tradition
Australian adults volunteered in 2016
hours volunteered in 2016
55–64 years volunteered @ an average of 157 hours
65+ years volunteered @ an average of 193 hours
Case Study: Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults
Why should volunteering have such positive effects? To date, the mechanisms of the volunteering-health relationship have been understudied, but there are a number of potential theories. One such explanation is that volunteering boosts social resources, which in turn has health implications.
However, other theorists provide evidence that volunteering has additive benefits above and beyond the benefits of other everyday social activities. Volunteering contributes to a sense of deeper meaning (i.e. eudaimonic well-being) compared with other types of social activities, although other social activities may contribute to temporary and less meaningful aspects of happiness (i.e., hedonic well-being). Other researchers have suggested that volunteering behaviour might prevent feelings of meaninglessness (i.e., anomie), with resulting health implications.
Interestingly, in the same study the results found that respondents who volunteered for other-oriented reasons (i.e. Social connection, altruistic values) experienced reduced mortality risk relative to non-volunteers, but respondents who volunteered for more self-oriented reasons (i.e. self-enhancement, self-protection, or career promotion) had a similar risk of mortality as non-volunteers. This analysis clearly demonstrates the importance of motives in determining health outcomes with respect to volunteering.
– Konrath S, Fuhrel-Forbis A, Lou A. Motives for Volunteering Are Associated With Mortality Risk in Older Adults. Health Psychology 2012, Vol. 31, No. 1, 87–96. Read more.
– Musick, M., Herzog, A. R., & House, J. S. (1999). Volunteering and mortality among older adults: Findings from a national sample. Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 54 S173–S180. doi:10.1093/geronb/54B.3.S173. Read more.
– Wilson, J., & Musick, M. (1999). The effects of volunteering on the volunteer. Law and Contemporary Problems, 62, 141–168.
More benefits stemmed from generosity, based on several studies:
- When people think about helping others, they activate a part of the brain called the mesolimbic pathway, which is responsible for feelings of gratification.
- Helping others doles out happiness chemicals, including dopamine, endorphins that block pain signals and oxytocin, known as the tranquillity hormone.
- People who volunteer have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety, less helplessness and hopelessness, better friendships and social networks, and a sense of control over chronic conditions.
- Among seniors, volunteering is likely to reduce the risk of dementia and is associated with reduced symptoms of depression, better self-reported health, fewer functional limitations and lower mortality.
- Adults over 50 who volunteered at least 200 hours in a year (4 hours per week) were 40% less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers.
- Volunteerism may boost self-esteem and protect people from social isolation, both of which are linked to better health in older adults, she said.
- Doing volunteer work may also give older adults perspective on their own life struggles, which can help them better cope with stress.
- Helping others also may promote the release of stress-buffering hormones that may reduce cardiovascular risk.
- People who volunteered had a 22% lower death risk and reported improved well-being and life satisfaction.
“Generous behaviour is closely associated with reduced risk of illness and mortality and lower rates of depression. Volunteering moves people into the present and distracts the mind from the stresses and problems of the self”.
Stephen G. Post, Professor of preventive medicine and the director and founder of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University.
“Participating in volunteer activities may provide older adults with social connections that they might not have otherwise, which promotes healthy aging and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes.”
Rodlescia Sneed, PhD candidate in psychology at Carnegie Mellon University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences in Pittsburgh.
Volunteering links to get you started
- Vision Australia
- The Smith Family
- Volunteering Australia
- Red Cross
- Conservation Volunteers Australia
- Volunteering in New South Wales
- Volunteering in Queensland
- Volunteering in Victoria
- Volunteering in Australia’s Capital City (ACT)
- Volunteering Tasmania
- Volunteering in South Australia
- Volunteering in Western Australia
- Volunteering in Northern Territory
- Australian Wildlife Conservancy
- Australia Zoo – NSW
- Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary – QLD
- Volunteer at an RSPCA:
Read more on the benefits of volunteering
Many case studies have proved that Volunteering and helping others is good for your heart and your health. It also helps to combat depression and loneliness and overcome isolation. More research and information can be read in Chapter 3.3 of our eBook, Why being generous after 60 is good for you.
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