PROVIDENCE – In today’s fast-paced society, it can be difficult to find time to complete the essential tasks of everyday life, let alone give back to others through volunteering.
However, as people leave the workforce and launch sons and daughters into adulthood, many seniors find that the world of volunteering offers many benefits for the mind, body and spirit.
For the mind
Social engagement helps to reduce stress, strengthens ties to your community and broadens your social network. While social isolation increases the risk of depression, a strong support network can protect you when you are going through a difficult time. Volunteering can also boost self-esteem and self-confidence, which relates to an overall sense of purpose and life satisfaction, key elements to aging well.
For the body
A more active lifestyle is essential for healthy aging, as it can both reduce the risk of chronic conditions – such as heart disease and diabetes – and boost the body’s immune system, protecting against illness and infection. Staying physically active through volunteering also helps improve or maintain your mobility, so risk for falls is reduced. It is not surprising that study after study finds retirees 65 and older who volunteer are living to an older age compared to their peers who do not volunteer.
For the spirit
For centuries, Jewish tradition and values have reminded us to serve the sick and the elderly. Bikkur holim (“visiting the sick”) is a great mitzvah, for example. Healthy seniors who can visit with and/or deliver meals to the homebound offer tremendous support to those who are socially isolated in our community. The volunteers provide a connection through a shared faith, which links them to the larger Jewish community. This feeling of connection to one’s faith and community is very important as we age, even for those who do not consider themselves very observant or religious. For the volunteers, being able to foster this connection for the most vulnerable in our community is powerful and meaningful. It can strengthen your faith and provide a sense of purpose as you enter your later years.
There are many opportunities for people of all ages to volunteer within the Jewish community. If you are interested in finding out how you can help, contact Jewish Family Service at 331-1244 or Jewish Seniors Agency at 351-4750.
Patricia Harwood, LICSW, (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of older adult resources at Jewish Family Service in Providence.