While many of us look forward to retirement so that we can sit on the porch and read or go fishing, many of today’s seniors are looking for a sense of purpose or an outlet for creativity. These active folks have only to look to their neighbors in need to find it. Volunteering is an excellent way for any senior to not only give back to their community but also improve their health and overall well-being.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 11 million seniors volunteered at least once in 2015. Overall, seniors (65 years and older) make up almost 25 percent of the volunteer population. If you include the 55-64 demographic, they make up more than 35 percent of the total volunteer population. Given that the total senior population is projected to reach 80 million by 2050, those numbers are bound to increase.

And there are plenty of good reasons why they should! Since April is National Volunteer Month, I wanted to take a moment to highlight the reasons that volunteering is an excellent way for seniors to stay healthy and active way past retirement age.

Older volunteers can meet a wide range of local needs, including socializing with seniors living in assisted living and nursing facilities, tutoring and mentoring at-risk youth, providing financial education and job training to veterans and their families, and serving meals at soup kitchens and food pantries. In fact, an older adult who volunteers typically does so for more hours in a year than any other age group.

In addition to providing valuable services to people in need, volunteering also enables older volunteers to enjoy active lives. More and more research is showing a relationship between volunteering and physical and mental health benefits. Sandy Lindberg can attest to that. The Nankin resident retired from LSS The Good Shepherd in Ashland after 42 years as a nurse. She said, "The day I retired, I went right over to the beauty salon in the building and offered to help. Now, I volunteer often. I love it. I get to see the residents and my co-workers every week. They are like family." Sandy also says that volunteering "mentally helps to know you bless others, but usually they encourage me even more."

Studies have shown that volunteers live longer. A recent study of Americans over the age of 60 found that those who volunteer reported less disability and higher levels of well-being relative to non-volunteers. There is also growing evidence that the positive health benefits of volunteering can be due to the increased physical, social and mental activity needed to be a volunteer. Older volunteers report lower rates in mortality and depression as well as fewer physical limitations and an enhanced sense of well-being.

For seniors, volunteering can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Volunteering regularly can significantly increase physical activity. Whether a senior is stocking shelves at a food pantry, repairing houses for a disaster relief service or walking around a medical facility as a book cart volunteer, volunteering is great to keep the body active. As we age, maintaining a healthy level of physical activity will help ward off disease, injury and even dementia.

Volunteering also has a positive effect on psychological wellness. Seniors who volunteer regularly experience greater life satisfaction, a sense of purpose and accomplishment, more stress resilience, and lower rates of depression. It also fosters positive social, family and community relationships and contributes to a positive image of seniors as a healthy and vital part of our society.

John Cadley of Ashland spends his time visiting veterans at both LSS Lutheran Village Assisted Living and LSS The Good Shepherd in Ashland. As a Vietnam veteran and retired from the Ashland Health Department, he feels that these visits are his ministry. He says, "I was blessed to come home from Vietnam, and I am thankful to all of the men and women who have served our country. They are my heroes. They make me a better man and I know they are appreciative of our conversations." His mission makes him a blessing to the residents who look forward to his visits. Seniors and retirees in Ashland can make a world of difference as they maintain their good health.

Terry McQuillen, Director of Life Enrichment and Volunteer Coordinator at LSS The Good Shepherd, remarks, "Retired folks make the best volunteers because they enjoy chatting with people like themselves. We always need volunteers to just sit with a resident, holding their hand, reading to them, playing cards or watching a movie.

Any time spent with one of our residents is priceless and appreciated more than the volunteer will ever know." At LSS Lutheran Village, seniors could spend time with residents reading, quilting, doing crafts, or playing card games. We are grateful for all of our volunteers.

For more information on volunteering at LSS The Good Shepherd, call Terry McQuillen at 419-289-3523 x5270 or to volunteer at LSS Lutheran Village, call Lindsey Salyers at 419-281-8403.

Lorie White is director of admissions and social services, LSS The Good Shepherd Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation