Working with volunteers of all ages, our mentors over 50 routinely tell us that engaging with their youth “Littles” keeps them young. Naturally, I started asking why. Below are some of the most important science-backed activities that are keeping our volunteers young.
Continue to Learn
As the old saying goes, if you don’t use it – you lose it. It’s easy to stick to the things you know. Routine and predictability make us feel comfortable and secure. However, too much of the same in our day to day lives can have a negative impact on our brain. According to the Association for Psychological Science, engaging in things that are challenging or unfamiliar stimulates the mind and creates new neural connections that keep us mentally sharp and focused. These new connections can be built through something as simple as learning a language, reading a new book, watching a documentary on a new topic or engaging in a new hobby or sport.
Relationships change over our lifetime. Prior to retirement, everyday we encounter people from diverse backgrounds in our office or out in the field. Engaging with different types of people, particularly younger people, also keeps us young (ask any teacher and they will validate this fact!). As we get older, it’s important to maintain social networks. So when those networks are no longer there through work and our kids, we can build them into our lives through volunteering, joining an exercise class or joining a religious or civic group. The National Institute of Aging even suggests that socializing may contribute to lower levels of interleukin-6. Interleukin-6 is believed to play a role in Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, heart disease and even cancer. Stay social through becoming a Big mentor to a child in your community.
Get Involved In the Community
People who volunteer have been found to have fewer symptoms of depression and a lower mortality rate than those who don’t volunteer. Volunteering exposes us to new activities and new people, helping to keep us mentally engaged and socially connected. Improving someone else’s life who needs it or contributing to the betterment of the community gives us meaning and purpose – something we all require to feel contentment and wholeness. Get involved by volunteering!
It’s important to keep excessive stress out of our lives, but as we age and the day to day grind of working and raising children ceases, it starts to become more important to keep moving. Research shows that too much physical stagnation can accelerate aging. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who were inactive were biologically eight years older than women who regularly exercised. But, not to worry – you don’t need to sign up for a marathon to enjoy significant benefits of exercise. A study out of the University of Michigan found that simply walking in nature reduced depressive symptoms and increased an overall sense of wellbeing.
Heather Freed, LCSW
President & CEO