Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Serve others, live longer!

Are you interested in life extension strategy that doesn’t involve drugs, diet, or exercise?  Look no further than volunteering!  There is a large amount of observational data to suggest that those who volunteer live longer lives than those who don’t, lowering their mortality risk by approximately 20%. [1]

While this has been a relatively consistent finding in medical literature, it’s based on observational studies, which means that critics point out the many different variables and features of those that volunteer that may account for this difference.

 I would respond to this in two ways:

  1. The critics may be partially correct.  However, if those who volunteer have features that confer longer life outside of the act of volunteering itself, we should be trying to get some of those features.  “Success leaves tracks” as the saying goes, and spending time with those who will likely live longer may rub some beneficial traits off on us!
  2. The second response would be that there seems to be data that indicates that volunteering in and of itself DOES independently increase our life span.  A 2017 study followed 300,000 married people, and compared partners who volunteered with their spouse who did not, with the thought that following a married partner might account for some of the confounding variables (socioeconomic status for example).  At the end of three years, those who volunteered lowered their mortality risk by 22% (women) and 23% (men) compared to non-volunteers.  Their spouses who did not volunteer had no improvement in mortality.  The study concluded “This study provides further evidence that the lower mortality associated with volunteering is unlikely to be due to health selection or to residual confounding arising from unmeasured selection effects within households. It therefore increases the plausibility of a direct causal effect.” [2]

My recommendation:

Volunteer a few times per month (more if able) to help those in need or for a cause you believe in.  You will be helping make the world a better place, and you may just live longer because of it.  “Everyone can be great, because anybody can serve” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Traditional avenues for volunteering may be limited for the moment, but there are plenty of D-I-Y workarounds: bring a meal to a friend, do yard work for someone who needs help, offer to take a neighbor’s dog for a walk, go shopping for someone who isn’t able to, send a cheery note or make a phone call to someone who lives alone…the possibilities are limitless!

David Ellis MD

[1] Jenkinson C.E. et al. BMC Public Health 2013;13:773

[2] O'Reilly D. et al. Int J Epidemiol 2017;46(4):1295‐1302