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Benefits of volunteering

Volunteering is not just about finding something to do. Volunteering can give you a sense of purpose, make you happier and there is now evidence that it might help you live longer and improve your brain health.

Why volunteer?

Research has found that volunteering is associated with reduced symptoms of depression, better self-reported health, fewer functional limitations, and lower mortality (Anderson et al. 2014).

Why is volunteering good for your health?

Volunteering increases social engagement and social interactions and supports an active lifestyle. As we have explored in this week of the course, these are very important for sustaining good health and cognition as we get older (Holtzman et al. 2004; Grundy et al., 2012; Burn & Szoeke, 2015). As you may recall from Week 2 and Week 3, adults who take part in more social activity and more physical activity have lower dementia rates (Fratiglioni et al. 2004).

How much do people volunteer?

In some countries, research suggests that older people are less likely to volunteer - but, when they do, they tend to give more time to volunteering. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing, a national study of people aged over 50 that Anne Nolan talked about in an earlier step, found that volunteering is very common among older people in Ireland. Almost half of all over 50s had volunteered in the last year, and strikingly, one in five older adults aged 65-74 do voluntary work daily or weekly. This represents a very high level of voluntary engagement in activities that support communities and individuals across Ireland.

Similar research has shown that for both men and women, those who volunteered at least once a year had a higher quality of life compared to those who never volunteered. Interestingly, the more people volunteered, the more their wellbeing increased (McCrory et al. 2014).

Types of volunteering

Everyone can volunteer in some way, and there are volunteering roles out there to suit all interests, skills and ages. Volunteering can range from helping in the local community, special needs assistance and youth work, to adult education, advocacy, fundraising and helping out in local charity shops. It’s not for everyone, but for those who do it, it can be enjoyable, fulfilling and also creates a new social network.

Find out how you can volunteer by looking through our bank of volunteering resources below.

  • Do you volunteer? Why? Why not?
  • What have you learned through this experience? Did anything surprise you?

Christine McGarrigle is Research Director of The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing at Trinity College Dublin.

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