Volunteering Beneficial to Health: Guelph Prof

April 08, 2014 - News Release

More than 13.3 million volunteers across Canada will be celebrated for their contributions during Canada’s 70th Annual National Volunteer Week, April 6-13. And University of Guelph psychology professor Benjamin Gottlieb says those volunteers have even more to celebrate, as studies show their voluntary activity improves their health.

In 2010, Canadian seniors collectively volunteered for more than 372 million hours, according to Statistics Canada.

Gottlieb has studied the health benefits of volunteering among seniors.

“Retirees who give of their time to others experience better health than those who don’t,” he said.

“Some of the health benefits include better cardiovascular function, less arthritis pain, lower stress, anxiety and depression, and overall increased self-esteem and sense of value.”

A 2008 study in a long-term care setting revealed that residents who volunteered experienced slower health deterioration than non-volunteers. A study in 2009 showed that having a strong sense of life purpose is associated with lower mortality rates; volunteer work was listed as one way seniors can find this sense of purpose.

“Today’s seniors lead very full lives, and they want to give back so their skills and expertise can benefit their communities,” said Erin Spink, past president of the Ontario branch of the Professional Administrators of Volunteer Resources.

“The many health benefits associated with volunteering enhance the meaningful and rewarding life experience volunteering provides.”

A 2011 study found that older people who dedicated modest amounts of time to volunteer activities had lower risk of hypertension than non-volunteers.

Gottlieb said events such as National Volunteer Week help people learn about opportunities in their communities.

“It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and think that it is too challenging to find time to volunteer,” he said.

“But there are many opportunities close to home where people can contribute, even by just giving a couple hours of their time each week. Many of them say that they hear about volunteer opportunities through family, friends, volunteer centres and online at volunteer.ca.

“The upside of taking time to volunteer includes health benefits and a sense of satisfaction from contributing to the community’s well-being.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or lhunt@uoguelph.ca; or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982, or kgonsalves@uoguelph.ca.

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