You looked forward to hanging up your apron after years of hard labor. You’re enjoying your freedom — but you feel like something’s missing. What can you do to regain a sense of purpose if you feel like a rudderless ship going wherever the tide takes you? You might benefit from volunteering in retirement!

The sky’s the limit when it comes to what you can do. Are you a fan of four-legged friends? Scores of puppies are in shelters, hoping someone will walk them. Do you miss your teaching days but have no urge to grade papers? Overpopulated classrooms need caring, professionally-trained aides.

Think about it — now that you’ve earned a living, it’s your turn to have fun with your time, working on what you love. Your hours are yours — you determine what boundaries you set with no fear of adverse employment action. What’s stopping you from seeing what you can do? Here’s why you should consider volunteering in retirement. 

What are the benefits of volunteering after retirement? 

There’s more to volunteering than doing what you love. Performing acts of kindness has lots of other perks. Check out these impressive benefits. 

1. It helps you stay physically active 

According to the World Health Organization, you need 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity throughout the week. Older adults should also participate in activities that include functional balance to prevent falls — but many people don’t hit either mark.

Inactivity can harm you even if you never take a tumble or break a bone. For example, 80% of older adults experience back pain, and physical inactivity is one of the primary causes. Despite the fact that doctors seldom recommend bed rest for this condition, many people let the discomfort keep them from one of the most effective remedies — movement.

Experts recommend regular, low-impact physical activities as one of the best preventive lifestyle modifications to avoid future back problems. Walking is perhaps the most popular form of low-impact exercise, and you’ll increase your daily step count by participating in activities like tree plantings and city park cleanups. 

Here are some more physical health perks of retirement volunteering:

  • Control your weight: Obesity can increase your Type 2 diabetes risk. Furthermore, it increases pressure on your joints, making conditions like arthritis more difficult to manage. 
  • Stimulate your digestive system: Too much inactivity can leave you constipated. Your colon responds to good muscle tone, helping you eliminate waste more easily. 
  • Maintain muscular strength and independence: Many older adults worry about losing their independence. Keeping fit through regular activity is the best way to maintain muscular strength as you age, reducing your risk of falls and injury and making it easier to carry out daily living activities. 
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2. It provides oodles of mental health perks 

Mental health disorders frequently plague older adults. Depression is the most common ailment, with anxiety coming in a strong second place. People raised in an age when therapy wasn’t as mainstream as it is today may resist seeking treatment because of lingering stigma. Fortunately, becoming a volunteer in retirement can ease your symptoms and improve your emotional well-being. 

For example, volunteering raises your level of several critical pleasure neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. It also stimulates endorphin release, increasing energy levels and producing a mild euphoria. 

Furthermore, volunteering eases stress. When you give and receive meaningful appreciation, it lowers tension. Working with others toward a mutual goal also takes your mind off your other troubles. 

3. It grows your friendship circle 

When you talk to people over 90 about what they regret the most, they rarely mention spending insufficient time at the office. What makes the list? When asked if he wished he accomplished more, one individual said he wished he’d loved more. It’s the connection with others that makes life the most meaningful. 

Unfortunately, connecting with others gets harder as you age. Countless older adults have experienced the loss of their spouses and other dear friends. Adult children move away, sometimes to the other side of the country or abroad. 

Volunteering after retirement offers a beautiful way to form new connections with like-minded people who share your passions and interests. How do you cement the bond? Invite one or more of the group for coffee or tea. You can also exchange numbers, saying, “I really enjoyed working with you on this project. Is it okay if we swap texts so we can keep each other up to date on future opportunities?” 

4. It builds your sense of agency 

Your sense of agency refers to a deeply held core belief that your actions can make a positive difference in the world. It’s the idea that you are in the driver’s seat, that life is something you make happen through active participation instead of a random set of circumstances you can neither cope with nor control.

Unfortunately, many older adults lose their sense of agency after they retire. This sentiment is particularly acute among those who internalized the message that your job is your worth — ceasing labor can make you feel like you no longer matter or have meaning or purpose. 

However, you’re probably still plenty sharp at your trade — you just don’t want to answer to a boss or clock in from nine to five anymore. If you still have passion for your previous profession, here are some ideas for how to use your skills as a retirement volunteer: 

  • If you worked in accounting or finance: There’s always a need for community tax volunteers during the season. You can also offer your skills as a financial consultant. Check with your local library — they often provide adult economic literacy classes. 
  • If you worked in the skilled trades: Plenty of nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity need skilled carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to pass on their knowledge to new recruits hoping to hone their talents by building homes for the needy.
  • If you served in the military or law enforcement: Safety is a primary concern for many citizens. Connect with your local library or parks and recreation department, where you could offer courses on proper gun handling, home defense, or stranger danger for kids. 
  • If you worked in retail: Many thrift shops operate as nonprofits and some organizations, like the Humane Society, run such shops entirely through volunteers to raise money to support their causes. If you can still work a register, they need you. 

5. It keeps your brain active and engaged 

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease frighten older adults for good reasons. These disorders steal much of the life from your remaining years, destroying precious memories and making you forget your grandchildren. 

Fortunately, studies find that exercising your brain delays the decline in thinking skills, a hallmark of these disorders. Those who already have a diagnosis can slow their symptom progression, and keeping an active mind may prevent the disease. 

You can only do so many crossword puzzles. However, volunteering as a retiree presents new challenges every time you put on your do-good hat. One day, you might need to calculate how to stretch three cans of beans into enough meals to supply your community soup kitchen. Tomorrow, you may help plan an accessible layout for a new playground. 

6. It’s a meaningful way to give back to your community 

Perhaps the most altruistic reason for spending a part of your retirement volunteering is to give back to your community. After all, think about how different your life would be if you didn’t have clean area parks for recreation or a phone line you could call when you need a caring voice.

You’re still a part of creating the future. What do you hope to see? If you find the modern world cold and crave genuine human connection, consider volunteering with other older adults who aren’t as active and mobile, keeping them from feeling isolated when few others visit them. 

Perhaps you miss how green the world was before strip malls and industry occupied every corner. If so, you might spearhead a new community garden project, help clean up an existing park or advocate for more natural spaces in your slice of the urban jungle. 

How to find volunteer opportunities in retirement

You’re convinced, and you want to get out and do good. Now your problem becomes finding the right activity. Where should you seek volunteer opportunities in retirement? Here are five places to find the perfect match: 

  1. Online: Organizations like the United Way can point you to areas of need. Alternatively, you can type in what you’d like to do and your city to see what Google finds. 
  2. Your state government: Many state departments of labor and industry have volunteer connection hubs. 
  3. Your local city hall: Your local government is also a great place to contact for volunteer opportunities. 
  4. Your favorite charities: Many nonprofits are run almost entirely by volunteers. Contact one that you support to inquire. 
  5. Your local library and parks and recreation department: Are you interested in teaching a class? These facilities often coordinate such offerings — make your expertise known. 

Volunteering in retirement 

Is something missing in your life since you hung up your work apron for good? Volunteering in retirement could offer the fulfillment you seek. 

Becoming a retirement volunteer benefits your mental and physical health, gives you a sense of meaning and purpose, and keeps you connected with your community. It’s the perfect way to stay active, meet new friends, and give back in thanks for the blessed life you’ve enjoyed so far. 

Mia Barnes is a writer and researcher with over 3 years of experience covering nutrition, wellness, and health-related topics. Mia is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Body+Mind Magazine, an online healthy living publication.