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Volunteering has plenty of benefits for retirees. Should you take it up?

Written and accurate as at: Mar 13, 2024 Current Stats & Facts

For a large number of retirees, volunteering is a way to reintroduce some of the structure and meaning that work provided, while also tapping into our desire to help others. But volunteering has been found to have a host of health benefits too. Below are just a few.

It can improve mental health and make you happier

For starters, volunteering tends to have a strong positive effect on mental health, which is why it’s held up as a good way to fend off depression and anxiety among retirees. 

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Social activity in general is known to reduce stress-causing emotions like anger or loneliness, and when coupled with acts of altruism it can be a great recipe for improved emotional well-being.

Interestingly enough, researchers have found that the mental health benefits provided by volunteering don’t depend so much on the type of volunteering you do. More important are your motivations for doing so and how satisfied you are with the volunteering experience.1

It encourages you to get moving

The reduction in stress produced by volunteering can lower the risk of various physical ailments, such as heart disease and stroke. Research also suggests that people who volunteer have lower mortality rates, assuming they volunteer for selfless reasons such as a desire to help or bond with others.2

But the incidental exercise you do in the course of volunteering can also be good for you. Many volunteer activities — like gardening, preparing food for the needy, or helping with your local sports team — involve some degree of movement. Performed regularly, this can offer protection against the deterioration of muscle and bone density that usually comes with age.3

Just keep in mind that if you have a medical condition or have been living a fairly sedentary lifestyle, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before introducing any new physical activity into your daily schedule.

It offers opportunities to connect with others

Few settings outside of work give you the opportunity to meet and collaborate with a diverse group of people all focused on achieving a common goal. It might not be a perfect substitute, but volunteering can offer similar opportunities to expand your social circle. 

It helps you stay mentally sharp

You’ve probably heard the old adage “use it or lose it.” When it comes to brain health, the more time you spend using your brain, the less likely you are to succumb to cognitive decline in old age.

If you're looking for ways to keep your mind active during your post-work years, current research suggests volunteering might help. A 2016 study of more than 13,000 people aged 60 years and over found that regular volunteer work was associated with a decreased risk of cognitive impairment.

Importantly, the research emphasised the benefits of consistent engagement in volunteer work, so if you’re thinking of getting involved, try to find an activity that suits your schedule and will sustain your interest over time.

It can provide a sense of purpose

It’s common to feel that you no longer have something to offer when you retire. For some people, that feeling might even be what pushed them to wind down employment in the first place. Volunteering can provide an opportunity to snap out of that mindset while also meeting new people and uncovering new interests.

The good news is there are plenty of ways to volunteer, from helping out at a library or foodbank to teaching English to new arrivals to the country. Whatever you choose, there’s a good chance you’ll find joy in helping others, but the many health benefits are a nice bonus.


1 VolunteeringAustralia
2 American Psychological Association
3 Plus One
4 PubMed

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