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Older people who volunteer have lower rates of heart disease and live longer than peers who don't volunteer, according to the January 2009 issue of Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource.

Volunteering can boost mental health; it's a great way to stay connected socially; and those social connections help buffer stress and get a person through hard times. Women tend to be more adept at maintaining social ties, and volunteer activities can further strengthen a woman's social network. Also, volunteering can provide a sense of purpose and vitality, key elements in helping stave off the depression that sometimes accompanies aging and isolation.

To realize the health benefits of volunteering, a commitment of 40 to 100 hours a year is needed, studies have shown. That equates to a couple of hours a week.

Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource offers these tips to get started:

Determine your interests: Think about what's enjoyable and makes you happy. Or focus on an issue that you care deeply about. Consider skills you've developed over the years and can share, or skills you'd like to learn.

Find organizations and opportunities: Do online research, check community bulletin boards or visit the local library to find volunteer opportunities. Places that often need help include hospitals, schools, libraries, food banks, religious organizations, parks, environmental programs, youth groups, humane societies, historic sites and arts organizations. Consider reaching beyond your local community to participate in a volunteer vacation in other states or abroad.

Decide on how much time you can offer: Opportunities range from getting involved in short-term events such as fundraising walks or bicycle rides to longer-term, ongoing activities such as tutoring. Phone or visit the organization you're interested in to determine if the mutual fit is a good one. If it's not, keep looking. Many organizations would welcome the skills and wisdom you can share.
 

 
 

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