Washington: Volunteering after 40 can enhance you emotional and mental wellbeing, says a new study.
However, according to the researchers, there is no such association before the age of 40, suggesting that the link may be stronger at certain points of the life course.
The researchers mined responses to the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), involving a representative sample of adults living in 5000 households in Great Britain.
They gathered 66,343 responses for 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008, where one in five respondents said that they had volunteered.
Women tended to volunteer more than men, and while almost a quarter of those aged 60 to 74 said they volunteered, this proportion dropped to 17 percent among the youngest age group.
When age was factored in, the positive association between volunteering and good mental health/emotional wellbeing became apparent at around the age of 40 and continued up into old age (80+).
Those who had never volunteered had lower levels of emotional wellbeing, starting at midlife and continuing into old age, compared with those who did volunteer.
The findings held true even after taking account of a range of potentially influential factors, including marital status, educational attainment, social class, and state of health.
By way of an explanation for the findings, the researchers speculated that volunteering at younger ages may just be viewed as another obligation, while social roles and family connections in early middle age may spur people to become involved in community activities, such as in their child’s school.
This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.
But they nevertheless suggest that the findings show that volunteering may be more meaningful at certain points of the life course and they call for greater efforts to involve middle aged to older people in some sort of volunteering.
“Volunteering might provide those groups with greater opportunities for beneficial activities and social contacts, which in turn may have protective effects on health status…With the ageing of the population, it is imperative to develop effective health promotion for this last third of life, so that those living longer are healthier,” they wrote.
A previous research indicated that people who volunteer are likely to have more resources, a larger social network, and more power and prestige, all of which have knock-on effects on physical and mental health, they point out.
“Volunteering may also provide a sense of purpose, particularly for those people who have lost their earnings, because regular volunteering helps maintain social networks, which are especially important for older people who are often socially isolated,” they added.