Volunteer! You'll Improve Your Retirement

Last Updated May 13, 2010 6:58 PM EDT

At least that's the conclusion I drew from reading the Do Good Live Well Study: Reviewing the Benefits of Volunteering, a fascinating study conducted by UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch. The survey of 4,582 people was conducted online in February and March this year. While the study reported results for people of all ages, the breakdowns for people age 65 and older offer valuable insights into how to make the best of our retirement years.

For instance, seniors who volunteer reported high levels of well-being, as indicated by the percentage of respondents age 65 and older who agree with the following statements:

"I believe that I am aging well." 87 percent of senior volunteers agree.

"Compared to others my age, I believe I am in good physical shape." 86 percent of senior volunteers agree.

"I feel younger than my age." 86 percent of senior volunteers agree.

"I feel good about getting older." 69 percent of senior volunteers agree.

The percentage of people agreeing with these statements was generally 10 percentage points higher than that of senior respondents who did't volunteer.

And the report gets more specific about various aspects of reported physical health, such as immunity, overall energy level, physical strength, and physical stamina. Once again, the percentage of senior volunteers who reported positive results was about 10 percentage points higher than nonvolunteers.

Frankly, I'm not at all surprised by the results. At my retirement planning workshops, I often meet seniors who share their own positive experiences with volunteering. I hear how it keeps them engaged and active and focused on the things that really matter.

In fact, recently, my wife and I met an older gentleman named David at a conference sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He enthusiastically expressed his own theory of retirement abundance: "I have enough income to meet my basic living needs. Whatever money I have left, I give away to charities and my younger relatives who need help. I also have plenty of time on my hands, so I spend a lot of time volunteering for causes that I believe in. It feels good to do good--I have a very abundant life!" David looked fit and healthy for a man in his mid-eighties -- he's a good model to emulate.

Your physical well-being can have a significant impact on your financial well-being, as discussed in my prior post How to Spend Less in Retirement. When you're planning for retirement, it might be a good idea to investigate causes you support that give you powerful reasons to get up in the morning.

One way to get started is to check out VolunteerMatch, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening communities by helping good people and good causes connect via their award-winning website. Try it! You just might find that volunteering will help improve your retirement.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.