The Health Benefits of Volunteering in Retirement

How Volunteering May Improve the Health and Longevity of Seniors

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Volunteering is often suggested as a great activity for retirees and seniors. It is an activity that benefits both society and the seniors’ own health. Seniors have a great deal of knowledge and experience, and sharing that with younger people is a traditional role for the seniors of a society. In today's Western culture, seniors are typically given less opportunity to take on this role with less multi-generational households and families whose members do not all live in the same town, let along the same state or country.

By volunteering, seniors can continue being engaged in their community and reap the health benefits. While it was generally believed that volunteer work is good for senior's health, until recently, those health benefits had been difficult to define.

Research on the Health Benefits of Volunteering

Researchers decided to take on the question of exactly what health benefits there were for seniors who volunteered and shared their own knowledge and experience. In their study, they used seniors who were members of AARP's Experience Corps, an organization that trains people over age 50 to tutor grade school aged children in reading.

Researchers found that active Experience Corps members reported, compared to their non-Experience Corps peers, improvements in mental health and physical functioning. They also seemed to show a delayed onset of age-related health problems. Perhaps most importantly, Experience Corp members reported higher self-esteem and more connectivity with other people.

Some other promising findings of the studies included:

What the Medical Science Community Says

Since these targeted studies on the impact of the Experience Corps volunteer program on both perceived and real mental and physical health, several other studies have been conducted that confirm the findings.

One 2014 study went as far as to examine whether certain productive activities like employment, caregiving, or volunteering have any connection with a reduction in the harmful bodily inflammation associated with many chronic diseases in older adults. The study's results found that volunteering possessed the strongest relationship with lower levels of inflammation, particularly in the group aged 70 years and older.

While it is still generally believed that volunteering has numerous health benefits for seniors, there have been some studies that have questioned whether there is a direct causal relationship been volunteering and health. One recent study, for instance, controlled for certain personality traits in their research. Their results implied that volunteering may be related to the better health of seniors because of the personality traits of the volunteers, not necessarily the act of volunteering itself.

The Health and Volunteering Bottom Line

Though some of the research is conflicted or at the very least complex, volunteering is still generally considered to be a great active outlet and activity for seniors, particularly for those who enjoy it.

So try to find a group or program that fits your interests. Do you like working with children? How about animals? Do you like teaching? If not for the possible mental and physical health benefits, then consider it a great way to spend some of your time in retirement.

Find Our More About Experience Corps

You can find out more about Experience Corps from their website. They take volunteers age 50 and older and train them to be tutors in city schools. They also help with the logistics and details of tutoring. The time commitment can vary, and there are many options for participation.

Find Other Ways to Volunteer

Experience Corps is an excellent program, but it is by no means the only way to reap the benefits of volunteering. In my opinion, the key ingredients are engaging with other people, meeting new people, doing meaningful work, and challenging yourself. Any activity that encourages you to do that can be beneficial. Make sure that the activity includes lots of upbeat interaction with other people and a commitment level that fits into your lifestyle.


Kim, S., and K. F. Ferraro. "Do Productive Activities Reduce Inflammation in Later Life? Multiple Roles, Frequency of Activities, and C-Reactive Protein." The Gerontologist54.5 (2013): 830-39.

King, Hannah R., Joshua J. Jackson, Nancy Morrow-Howell, and Thomas F. Oltmanns. "Personality Accounts for the Connection Between Volunteering and Health." GERONB The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences 70.5 (2014): 691-97.

Morrow-Howell, N., Hong, S.-I., McCrary, S., Blinne, W. (2009). Experience Corps: Health outcomes of participation (CSD Research Brief 09-09). St. Louis: Washington University, Center for Social Development.

Tan EJ, Xue QL, Li T, Carlson MC, Fried LP. Volunteering: a physical activity intervention for older adults--The Experience Corps program in Baltimore. J Urban Health. 2006 Sep;83(5):954-69.

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