Aging Well: The hidden value of volunteering

New research from Mather Institute reveals that some volunteer activities may be better than others when it comes to strengthening life satisfaction.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

Volunteer work is a wonderful use of your time. Doing something worthwhile for others offers a wealth of benefits to your own well-being, from keeping you mentally and socially active to strengthening your sense of purpose and satisfaction with life.

When The Mather, a Life Plan Community for those 62 and better, opens in Tysons in 2024, it will be home to some dedicated volunteers. One of them is Bob Fall, who dedicates approximately 30 hours a week during basketball season as an assistant coach for the girls’ varsity team at Langley High School.

Bob has served as one of two assistant coaches on the team for eight years. “I did this while I was still working a ‘real job’ — I’m not sure how I did that!” he says. “We have to do a tremendous amount of prep work. I watch a heck of a lot of film of the teams we play, as well as our own team.”

He enjoys the camaraderie with the other coaches, and the energy of the kids. “This is a particularly satisfying experience, because I’m part of a small, stable coaching staff that works well together,” he says. “And it’s a very energetic atmosphere to be in a gym with 12 teenage girls. There’s a lot of intensity — it keeps me young. It’s just fantastic.”

Staying Local

Currently living in Annandale, Bob and his wife Helen have lived in the area since he went to law school at George Washington University. He worked at the Freddie Mac headquarters, close to The Mather’s location. “I used to jog past The Mather’s future site on my lunch hour,” he says.

As they prepare to move to Tysons, Bob says, “I’m looking forward to joining a community in which I know there will be a lot of activities, and opportunities to be with interesting people, with learning opportunities all the time.”

Benefits of Volunteering

Interestingly, some volunteer activities may be better than others when it comes to life satisfaction. Research from Mather Institute looked at different formal and informal volunteer activities and found that many older adults could increase their life satisfaction by choosing formal activities, generally done through an organization, as opposed to informal activities like helping out a neighbor or friend.

Mather Institute is the research area of Mather, the parent organization to The Mather. The Institute is an award-winning resource for research and information about wellness, aging, trends in senior living, and successful aging service innovations.

“In our study on ‘the value of volunteering,’ we found that not all opportunities offer the same psychological benefits,” says study author Nicole Lehpamer, PhD, senior research associate at Mather Institute. The study reveals that volunteer activities most likely to increase your life satisfaction include:

  • Fundraising
  • Mentoring youth or tutoring and teaching
  • Collecting, preparing, serving, or distributing food
  • General labor (like cleaning up a public park)

Want to find a volunteer opportunity that will maximize your life satisfaction? Start by looking at local community groups, schools, or places of worship for formal volunteer opportunities like those listed above.

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in 2024.