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You work hard your entire career until the big day comes when you can finally retire. Congratulations!

Now that you’ve made it, what will you do with all your time? Many people find volunteering a wonderful way of staying engaged with their community, feeling productive, and finding fulfillment through helping others.

According to StatsCan, Canadians born between 1918 and 1945 logged almost three times the average number of hours per year (222 versus 82 for people born in 1996 or later). These numbers show that age shouldn’t stop anyone from doing what they love and giving back to the organizations they care about the most.

In addition, there are many physical, mental, and emotional benefits that come along with volunteer work, including:

Reduces the risk of loneliness

Research has shown that an estimated 30% of older Canadians are at risk of becoming socially isolated. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the person has no friends or family; rather, loneliness is truly defined by how engaged people are with others in their life.

Volunteering provides ample opportunities to meet new people who share the same interests and values as you do. This can lead to new friendships that reduce the risk of social isolation and loneliness.

Reduces the risk of dementia

Research conducted by the University of Calgary discovered that adults who did volunteer work for at least one hour per week were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than those who did no volunteer work. The volunteer activities included activities that benefited people outside of the participant’s core family, such as helping out at church, schools, homeless shelters, libraries, or other charitable organizations.

Although the reasons for the decreased risk of dementia are exactly clear, experts believe it’s because volunteering resembles a work environment: it gives the day structure, promotes cognitive stimulation, and increases motivation – all of which are excellent for brain health.

Promotes a sense of purpose

Many people find purpose in raising a family and succeeding in their careers. However, once we’re sitting in an “empty nest” and are retired from work, it can be challenging to find a new purpose that drives us every day.

Volunteering can help give you that sense of purpose and belonging, as well as a sense of accomplishment that helps increase self-esteem and promotes overall mental and physical wellness.

Supports good physical health

Sitting down to surf the internet or watch television can harm your health. Volunteer work involving walking, standing, gardening, or light lifting benefits your physical health.

During the warmer months, moderate exposure to the sun also provides excellent health benefits, as long as you protect yourself from overexposure and extreme heat.

Helps you stay in control of your routine

Volunteer opportunities help you build your own schedule by letting you choose when and where you volunteer. You can also choose what you do based on your interests, whether helping at a hospital, food bank, nursing home, animal shelter, parks and gardening programs, arts or music organizations, or elsewhere.

This flexibility also allows you to volunteer for more than one organization if you have the time and energy.

You can learn new skills or use current ones

Many volunteer organizations offer opportunities to do things you may never have done before. For example, hospitals use volunteers to serve as greeters and waiting room, gift shop, and information booth attendants.

You may also get to use skills you already have in a volunteer role, such as making shawls, blankets, sweaters, and hats for newborns and patients with cancer. If you enjoy driving, you may find opportunities to transport patients or medical supplies.

It helps you feel your best

An article in The Washington Post cited that people who volunteer are overall happier and healthier than people who do not. Much of this might have to do with the good feelings we get when we help others.

After a shift of volunteering, you may feel calm, happy, re-energized, and excited for your next turn at helping others in your community.

How to find volunteer opportunities

The first step to finding a suitable volunteer role is to make a list of your interests and local organizations whose mission you believe in. If you can match your skills with an organization, you can inquire if they are seeking volunteers.

You can also ask your peer network where they volunteer or if they know anywhere that would be a good fit for you. Senior Toronto and Volunteer Toronto are also excellent resources. If you’d like to volunteer helping seniors in long-term care homes, you can try the City of Toronto website.

Volunteering gives you the opportunity to make a significant impact in your community and get a host of health and wellness benefits in return simply by sharing what is most precious of all: your time, presence, and attention. Seek out a volunteer position today – you’ll be glad you did!

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