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We all know volunteering is good for your soul, but it may also be good for your brain! Volunteering protects your brain from cognitive decline and dementia, according to a recent study.

Researchers at the University of California Davis Health found that volunteering later in life is linked to improved cognitive functions, more specifically, executive function and episodic memory. 

Contributing your time, energy, and passion to meaningful causes offers opportunities for physical activity, enhanced social interaction, and cognitive stimulation, especially for those in their golden years.

In a media release, Donna McCullough, Alzheimer’s Association chief mission and field operations officer, said,  

“We hope these new data encourage individuals of all ages and backgrounds to engage in local volunteering — not only to benefit their communities but potentially their own cognitive and brain health.”

 The researchers studied the volunteering habits of a diverse group of 2,476 older adults, acquired from the Kaiser Healthy Aging and Diverse Life Experiences Study (KHANDLE) and the Study of Healthy Aging in African Americans (STAR). With an average age of 74, the participants were 48% African American, 20% Caucasian, 17% Asian, and 14% Latino. Of note, 43% (or 1,167 participants) stated they had volunteered in the past year.

The results revealed that those who volunteered had better scores on tests measuring executive function and verbal episodic memory. These findings stood firm even after accounting for factors such as age, sex, education, and income. The data indicated that those who volunteered several times a week exhibited the highest levels of executive function.

“Volunteering may be important for better cognition in late life and could serve as a simple intervention in all older adults to protect against risk for Alzheimer’s disease and associated dementias,” says Yi Lor, epidemiology doctoral student at UC Davis. “Our next steps are to examine whether volunteering is protective against cognitive impairment, and how physical and mental health may impact this relationship.”

“You’re not in control of your family history or age — you can’t turn back the clock. But you are in control of how you spend your day and life,” says Rachel Whitmer, the study’s principal investigator. “Volunteering is about keeping your brain active. It’s also about socializing, which keeps you engaged and happy, and potentially lowers stress.”

All of that AND you get to make the world a better place! Take some time to go volunteer, especially if you’re retired. It’s good for the world and for you!