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Want Added Years? Try Volunteering

SATURDAY, June 13, 2020 -- If you're older and you want to prolong your life, try volunteering, new research suggests.

"Humans are social creatures by nature. Perhaps this is why our minds and bodies are rewarded when we give to others," said lead investigator Eric Kim. He is from the department of social and behavioral sciences and the Center for Health and Happiness at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in Boston.

For the study, Kim's team looked at nearly 13,000 people older than 50 who took part in the U.S. Health and Retirement Study and were tracked for four years between 2010 and 2016.

Compared to those who didn't volunteer, those who volunteered at least 100 hours a year (about two hours per week) had a substantially reduced risk of death and of developing physical limitations during the study period, and higher levels of physical activity and improved sense of well-being.

The study was published online June 11 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"Our results show that volunteerism among older adults doesn't just strengthen communities, but enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression and hopelessness," Kim said in a journal news release.

"Regular altruistic activity reduces our risk of death, even though our study didn't show any direct impact on a wide array of chronic conditions," Kim added.

The study didn't find connections between volunteering and improvements in chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, arthritis, obesity, mental impairment or chronic pain.

The study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting need for social distancing, the researchers noted.

However, "now might be a particular moment in history when society needs your service the most. If you are able to do so while abiding by health guidelines, you not only can help to heal and repair the world, but you can help yourself as well," Kim said.

"When the COVID-19 crisis finally subsides, we have a chance to create policies and civic structures that enable more giving in society," he said. "Some cities were already pioneering this idea before the pandemic and quarantine, and I hope we have the willingness and resolve to do so in a post-COVID-19 society as well."

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Posted: June 2020