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Royal Voluntary Service blog
Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.

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Keeping busy is key to improved wellbeing in older people

Steve SmithMore and more evidence suggests that keeping occupied and undertaking activities that give an older person a sense of achievement and purpose is good for their health and wellbeing.

Previous research on whether retirement is bad for health has produced mixed results. New research presented by the Institute of Economic Affairs this summer indicates that being retired may decrease physical, mental and self-assessed health and these adverse effects increase as the number of years spent in retirement rises. The results obtained showed that clinical depression increased in retirement by around 40% and the probability of having at least one diagnosed physical condition by around 60%. Equally, while retirement in itself is a stressful event it can decrease work related pressures which can also be harmful to health. So much will depend on the type of work that the individual is exiting from.

Earlier this month a survey undertaken on behalf of the Royal Voluntary Service showed that more than two million retirees over the age of 60 spend their time volunteering for at least two charities. The research also provides an insight into why older people choose to volunteer. Although 83% of those aged 60 and over volunteer because they believe the work of the charity is very important, 39% follow in the footsteps of a relation and say they volunteer because their family have always done so.

Furthermore, 46% of older people admit they chose to volunteer because they need to feel they have a purpose. Our previous research also found that older people who volunteer are less depressed, have a better quality of life and are happier.

And a few days ago a study led by the University of Exeter showed that people who volunteer benefit from various improvements in mental health. Those who gave up their time to help others were less likely to suffer from depression, plus they had higher levels of life satisfaction and wellbeing. However, if volunteering gives nothing back to the volunteer its positive effect is limited or negated.

But the message seems to be clear, keeping active and busy for as long as possible in roles that “give back” is an important factor in maintaining health and wellbeing in older age, whether that is through a choice of formal paid work or through volunteering.

One way of ensuring that volunteers receive acknowledgement for the contribution that they make is by nominating for this year's Diamond Champions awards. Nominations can be made up until 15 September. More information can be found here.

Posted by Steve Smith, Royal Voluntary Service Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Wednesday, 28 August 2013.

Labels: older people, wellbeing, loneliness