Volunteering provides 'health boost'
Published on 29 October 2013 02:30 PM
Volunteering provides a significant benefit to health, new research has suggested.
People aged over 70 who regularly volunteer are healthier than others aged a few years younger, according to the study published online in The Gerontologist.
Regular volunteers in the 70-85 age group have younger biological profiles than those aged 58-69 who infrequently volunteer, even when other factors are accounted for, sociologists found.
Study leader Seoyoun Kim, a doctoral student in sociology and gerontology at Purdue University, said the researchers looked at the impact of various activities but discovered 'there is something really distinctive about volunteering that positively affects a person's physical health.'
Regular volunteers ‘have younger biological profiles'
Other studies have looked at the association between volunteering and self-reported physical and mental health, but the researchers in this latest project believe their work is set apart because it looks at a specific biomarker to objectively assess a person's health.
Kenneth F Ferraro, a Purdue distinguished professor of sociology, explained: 'We believe we are the first to document this link by measuring chronic inflammation.'
He said this biomarker is like 'a canary in the mine' in that it can provide a clinical assessment of an individual's health whether or not a condition has been diagnosed.
The biomarker in question is the C-reactive protein, or CRP, which increases with ageing.
Volunteering allows older people to ‘engage in meaningful roles and stay active'
High levels of CRP are indicative of health problems such as cardiovascular and chronic disease.
The researchers in this study used data collected in 2005-06 from 1,790 people aged between 57-85 who took part in the National Social Life, Health and Ageing Project.
For the project, which recruited a nationally representative sample, individuals answered questions about their health and provided a blood sample.
In their analysis of the data, the researchers found that CRP was around 15% lower for people who volunteered several times a year compared with those who did not volunteer in the past year.
Seoyoun Kim suggests this effect is due to older people 'either losing or reducing their involvement in highly institutionalised roles, such as retirement or their children leaving the home.'
The study leader added: 'Volunteering allows them to engage in meaningful roles and stay active.'
Copyright Press Association 2013