Over the years, many studies have confirmed that there are significant health benefits to giving back.
However, a new study published this week in the BMJ Open online, found that these helpful effects didn’t show up before the age of 40. Indeed, only after age 40 and up into old age did the positive association between volunteering and good mental health and emotional wellbeing become apparent.
“Voluntary action might provide those groups with greater opportunities for beneficial activities and social contacts, which in turn may have protective effects on health status,” said Dr. Faiza Tabassum at the University of Southampton in a press release on the study issued by the university. “Particularly, with the aging of the population, it is imperative to develop effective health promotion for this last third of life, so that those living longer are healthier.”
For the study, Tabussum and other researchers from the University of Southampton and the University of Birmingham in England reviewed over 66,000 responses by British adults to questions asked via the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS).
The survey, which ran between 1991 and 2008, posed a variety of questions on leisure activities including the time spent on formal volunteering. The survey also included questions to measure emotional health and wellbeing.
Around 21 percent of respondents said they had performed some kind of formal volunteering activity with women being more likely to volunteer than men.
Across the entire sample, those who volunteered frequently enjoyed the best mental health while those who never volunteered suffered the worst.
Researchers said that although previous studies have linked volunteering in middle age and old age with improved mental and physical health, it’s never been clear whether these benefits could be applicable to other age groups as well ― until now.
Tabassum said that volunteering may benefit people over 40 the most simply because it provides a sense of purpose, “particularly for those people who have lost their earnings, because regular volunteering helps contribute to the maintenance of social networks, and this is especially the case for older people who often live in isolation.”
Still need another reason to volunteer? A review of dozens of studies found that frequent volunteering could help you live longer by decreasing early mortality rates by 22 percent.
All in all, it seems giving back ― especially after age 40 ― really is good for you.