A senior man resting during exercise, taking in a view of hills.
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Older adults who volunteered more often had better emotional well-being, were less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease and had lower risks for not being able to perform activities of daily living. 

Data came from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) cohort, which includes people 50 and up who live across Europe. Information was collected from 19,821 middle-aged and older adults from 2011 to 2020. The report was published in the European Journal of Public Health on Feb. 22.

Volunteering is good for middle-aged and older adults, though evidence is limited on specific health benefits. The study looked at how people fared in terms of 21 health indicators over a six-year span of time when they volunteered. 

The people were asked about how often they offered to help charities without pay over the past year. The participants could say that they volunteered almost every week or more often, almost every month or less often, or never.

More than 10% of the participants said they volunteered almost every week or more often; 9% reported giving back almost every month or less often, and nearly 81% never volunteered. 

People who gave back every week or more often had better emotional well-being and lower risks for limitations in activities of daily living. The individuals who volunteered were less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease as well. Compared with people who didn’t volunteer, the do-gooders had higher scores on feeling positive about the future, having a lot of energy and being happy about the lives they lived.

Those who had limitations in daily life activities, more loneliness, high blood cholesterol, hypertension and chronic lung disease had a harder time participating in charity work.

Volunteering wasn’t linked to subsequent depression, cognitive impairment or various physical health outcomes such as diabetes, stroke, cancer, heart attack, lung disease and chronic pain, the authors reported.