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Heart & Soul: Retirees Find New Meaning Through Volunteering

By | 2017-10-31T16:31:13+00:00 March 1st, 2016|

What is the essence of life? To serve others, and do good. — Aristotle

Many Baby Boomers have trouble thinking about, much less saying, the “R-word”…retirement. Often people in this age group have been in careers that they love for forty-plus years, and the thought of moving to the next phase of life, in which they no longer have to report to work each day, may make them feel like a horse being sent out to pasture.

But retirement doesn't mean you have to hang up your hat forever. Yes, you will likely enjoy the freedom to spend more time with loved ones or focus on hobbies and travel, but retirement is also a great time to give your time to others through volunteering. With bonuses, raises, and promotions in the past, seniors often find a great deal of personal satisfaction in volunteer activates, as well as health benefits.

Good for a senior's mind, body & soul

Several studies have found both physical and mental health benefits for seniors who give their time to charitable causes.

A 2013 research study from Carnegie Mellon University found that adults over the age of 50 who volunteered on a regular basis (200+ hours in the previous twelve months) were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. This correlation is significant since high blood pressure is a contributing factor to heart disease, stroke, and premature death. The lead researcher theorized that those who frequently volunteered were more physically active, thus helping to control blood pressure. And the mental stimulation, socialization, and camaraderie that naturally occur in many charitable organizations are also good stress-reducers, which can also aid in blood pressure management.

Another study found that older people who volunteer actually live longer than non-volunteers. But there is a caveat. The 2012 study out of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan discovered that the increase in longevity only applied if the senior volunteer's motivations were truly altruistic (or “other-centered,” as the study calls it). So it is important that your philanthropic intentions come from the heart!

It's not work if you love it

Ready to explore volunteer opportunities in your city…or even abroad? SeniorCorps was founded during JFK's presidency, alongside similar organizations like the PeaceCorps and AmeriCorps. The organization works to pair senior volunteers age 55+ with not-for-profits. If you are interested in finding a volunteer opportunity, consider looking for options that could benefit from your expertise and years of experience in the workplace.

Teachers and professors: Schools and libraries are always in need of tutors for every school subject, as well as literacy tutors. And guest lecturers are welcomed at many colleges and universities.

Accountants: Not-for-profits often can use the guidance of a skilled bookkeeper. Likewise, programs like SCORE give start-up business owners advice and mentorship from business experts.

Doctors and dentists: There are numerous organizations, such as the National Association of Retired Physicians and the American Medical Association's Senior Physician Volunteer program, that pair retired physicians and dentists with volunteer opportunities at free medical clinics and care expos for people in need.

Clergy: In addition to guest preaching stints for pastors who are on vacation or sabbatical, clergy can fill a need for hospice organizations and not-for-profit medical facilities.

Construction: People with any type of construction experience would be welcomed volunteers for organizations like Habitat for Humanity.

An opportunity for everybody

No matter your previous work experience, your interests, or your desired time commitment, there are endless opportunities for senior volunteers. Community centers, mentoring programs, animal shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens, blood drives, bell ringers, charity fundraisers…pick the cause that appeals to your heartstrings. You may just find that you get as much or more personal fulfillment out of your post-retirement years than you did during your career's glory days.

About the Author:

Brad Breeding is president and co-founder of myLifeSite, a North Carolina company that develops web-based resources designed to help families make better-informed decisions when considering a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) or lifecare community.