The benefits behind volunteering

Photo by Kerby Centre

Retirement can be an exciting time for a senior. You no longer need to be part of the daily grind and your time is yours to do with as you will. It heralds the start of a whole new chapter in your life: the Golden Years. 

But after a few months of sleeping in and puttering around the house, this golden period can start to lose its shine.

While your job may have been tiring, frustrating or unfulfilling, it still provided you with a reason to get up and out of the house, some social interaction and that feeling of contributing to society. After retirement, we may find ourselves feeling aimless without that steady routine; we may start to feel isolated — especially during these still uncertain times — or we may find that without the daily mental and physical stimulation of work, our brains and bodies may become a bit out of practice. 

How can we keep connected and active? One answer is to become a volunteer.

According to a Statistics Canada report in 2018,39 per cent of the Baby Boomer generation (1946-1965) volunteered with an average yearly contribution of 153 hours. 

The Mature generation (1918-1945) had a 32 per cent volunteer rate with an average yearly contribution of 222 hours. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteer numbers across the country have plummeted as concerns about health and safety kept millions of people at home or hesitant to get back into the community doing volunteer work. 

Now, many organizations are really struggling to keep working at the same level. It’s clear the importance of seniors to volunteer organizations, but what about the importance of volunteering to seniors? How does volunteering benefit the individual?

Volunteering has numerous benefits: 

  • the reduction of feelings of isolation and loneliness; the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded people; and the ability to create social connections, creating new friendships or reviving old ones. 

Volunteering helps you

  • Interact with others on a regular basis.
  • Develop new skills or rekindle old interests — who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks! Maybe this is the time to get back into music, creative writing, cooking or auto repair. Or perhaps now’s your chance to learn to use a computer or social media. The possibilities are endless!
  • Maintain or improve your mental health. According to a University of Calgary study, seniors who volunteered at least one hour per week were almost two and half times less likely to develop dementia than those who didn’t volunteer! If you don’t use it, you lose it!

Staying active longer through physical activity: 

  • Volunteering helps keep you physically active for longer. If you become sedentary, it decreases your muscle tone and flexibility. By volunteering, you will be keeping or increasing your current level of body health, making it easier to move and do physical tasks for a longer period and to a greater age.

Gaining a sense of self-purpose and community: 

  • When we volunteer, we are connecting ourselves to our community. Whether we are stocking shelves at the food bank, aiding with programs at the local Senior or Youth Centre, serving on the board of a local art group or delivering Meals on Wheels to housebound folks, we are helping to make our community a kinder and more caring place to live. By helping others, we also end up helping ourselves: It’s scientifically proven that being kind will boost levels of serotonin and dopamine. These are the neurotransmitters that give you feelings of satisfaction and well-being and light up the pleasure and reward centres in your brain. Endorphins, which are your body’s natural painkillers, can also be released. Volunteering has benefits for both the individual, the group and the community.
  • Connecting with loved ones: Maybe volunteering is something that you could do with a friend or family member? It is a wonderful opportunity to get together with friends, neighbours, family, or even your grandchildren. This regular volunteer time would provide a chance to connect, have a shared positive experience, be a good role model or even learn some new skills from the younger generation – like how to use voice commands on your smartphone!

With all the incredible benefits that we can get from volunteering, it only makes sense both for ourselves and our community, to get involved. 

If you would like to start your volunteer experience, please contact your favourite local organization or go online to to see what kind of volunteer opportunities are available in your area.