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Benefit From Volunteering

They call Rush volunteer Pat Dineen the Energizer bunny because she wears a pink jacket and keeps going and going … and going.

At 83, Dineen welcomes each day at Rush with boundless enthusiasm. Whether she's preparing patient information packets or telling corny jokes to patients awaiting hip replacements, she finds deep satisfaction in her work at Rush. "Every morning I wake up and am grateful for another beautiful day and for the chance to help people through volunteering," she says.

And research is showing that volunteering isn't just good for Dineen's sense of well-being; it's good for her health. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research, compiled by the Corporation for National and Community Service, summarizes findings of studies looking at the relationship between health and volunteering.

These findings consistently demonstrated a connection between volunteering and good health, including greater longevity, lower rates of depression, a lower incidence of heart disease and higher functional ability.

Volunteering and Older Adults: A Bigger Health Bonus
Age could be a factor with regard to the positive effects of volunteering, with one study finding that volunteering among adults 60 and older provided physical and mental health benefits that were not found in midlife adults who volunteered. The reason? Younger volunteers may not get as big of a health bonus by volunteering because it's often done out of a sense of obligation (e.g., putting in time at their children's school), whereas older adults are looking for more purposeful roles in their communities when volunteering.

And research has shown that having a sense of purpose in life carries health benefits. According to a study led by Patricia Boyle, PhD, a neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, possessing a greater purpose in life is associated with lower mortality rates among older adults. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, found that a person with high purpose in life, one who derives meaning from life's experiences and possesses a sense of intentionality and goal directedness, was about half as likely to die during the study's five-year follow-up period than a person who lacked a high purpose.

"Volunteering provides many older people with a deep sense of meaning," says Boyle. "Working toward a goal and feeling like you are making a contribution to society likely increases one's sense of purpose in life, which we have found contributes to successful aging."

Research Findings
Here are some findings cited in The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research:

  • People with chronic pain experienced a reduction in pain intensity and less disability when they started to work as peer volunteers for others suffering from chronic pain.
  • People who volunteer after a heart attack reported a reduction in despair and depression — factors that have been linked to an increased likelihood of death in heart attack patients.
  • Those who volunteered reported higher levels of happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, a sense of control over life and physical health, as well as lower levels of depression. When it comes to volunteering and health benefits, however, there are limits. To get the health perks of volunteering, researchers have identified a volunteering threshold of one to two hours a week per year; beyond that, there are no additional health benefits.

That news won't stop Pat Dineen, though. She volunteers about 16 hours a week and, like that pink, battery-powered bunny, is always on the move. "My philosophy is to go really fast," she says. "That way, the bad stuff won't catch you."

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • To learn more about volunteering at Rush, go to and click on the "Volunteer at Rush" link in the lower right hand corner. To volunteer, call volunteer services at (312) 942-5574, Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. You will be asked to register for a high school or college/adult orientation session.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (888 352-7874)
  • Follow Rush on Facebook and Twitter.

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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