How all seniors can benefit from volunteering

Every Tuesday, Youville Assisted Living resident "Mary" volunteers at a local soup kitchen. She and fellow volunteers spend three hours preparing meals for the homeless. This weekly routine is rich with personal history for Mary, who has made and maintained many enduring friendships through her volunteer work. Now in her 80s, she still looks forward to seeing her friends at the soup kitchen and making a positive difference in the lives of so many.

For Mary, community service is rooted in her church upbringing. She has never thought twice about serving others. In addition to her work in the soup kitchen, she participates regularly in volunteer activities at Youville Assisted Living Residences and elsewhere in the community. She attributes to her active service a sense of empowerment and purpose in life.

Regular volunteering has been linked to increased longevity, relief from chronic pain and fewer hospital visits. One study found that seniors who volunteered with at least two organizations over the course of a year had healthier hearts and 44 percent lower mortality rate than their non-volunteering peers. Of all age groups surveyed across many studies, seniors report the greatest health benefits from their volunteering.

Volunteering often leads to increased physical activity and better cardiovascular health. Researchers have also honed in on a special hormone our body releases during the commission of good deeds, called oxytocin. Not only does this hormone disrupt stress, but it also helps our cells store nutrients and repair themselves. Thanks to oxytocin, senior volunteers are happier and less stressed out.

Studies have confirmed that volunteers over the age of 65 experience less depression than non-volunteering seniors. A major reason seems to be that volunteering can help us maintain social connections and a meaningful role in our community after retirement.

The power of good intentions

There's an often-quoted saying of Dr. Martin Luther King on volunteerism: "Everybody can be great because everybody can serve." Even when health or disability prevents seniors from community service, many continue to serve in smaller ways. These people make a difference in their immediate surroundings, drawing from the same reservoir of good will that inspires the most active community volunteers.

Such helpers can be found in any Senior Living Community. At Youville, there's the small group of residents who help place menus in the dining room before meals. There are the early risers every Tuesday morning who arrange flowers through the common areas. There are the many eager participants in Youville's community benefit programs, who help prepare food for those in need. These residents show that even when we rely on others, we can continue to extend a hand when possible.

Research shows that a desire to help -- regardless of whether you are actually able to offer real help -- has a positive impact on health and happiness. A National Institute of Health study in 2007 monitored brain activity of people as they considered donating money to a list of charities. As participants selected the charities, an FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) device picked up on increased activity in the mesolimbic pathway -- this is the area of the brain where we experience joy and pleasure. Simply thinking about making donations caused the participants in the study to release "feel good" chemicals.

If you're skeptical, try it yourself. Take a few minutes to imagine yourself making a positive difference in someone's life. You could be donating money to a special cause, or, like Mary, feeding the homeless at your local soup kitchen. Whatever scenario you invent, the act of imagining, all by itself, should lead to a sense of pleasure.

Researcher Stephen Post, professor of Preventative Medicine at Stony Brook University, thinks that oxytocin, also known as the "compassion hormone," is one of the most important of the feel-good chemicals released by the brain during altruistic acts. When we commit selfless acts of kindness, or even just imagine such acts, a rush of oxytocin inhibits the stress response, enabling us to reach out to strangers with minimized feelings of discomfort.

Visualizing improved outcomes for others, whether through prayer, meditation or imaginative exercises, makes us feel better and reduces stress. Research suggests that over time, reduced stress leads to improved cardiovascular health for volunteers and those who simply wish for the common good.

For those who are independent, finding local volunteer opportunities is a great way to stay healthy and social engaged. If you're unable to go out into the community, remember that every act on the spectrum of good intentions, no matter how minor, has its value. Although age can slow us down, our good will toward others continues to offer us ways to connect with others and find fulfillment.

Adam Johnson writes for Youville Assisted Living Residences, member of Covenant Health Systems, a Catholic, multi-institutional health and elder care organization serving New England. See

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Vatican publishes list of synod participants, including papal nominees

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- To the list of members of the Synod of Bishops elected by national bishops' conferences, Pope Francis added cardinals from 14 countries, ...

Addicts and their loved ones talk about life with opioid addiction

ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) -- It was a Saturday night, and Billy was eating pizza and watching a sporting event in the basement bedroom of his residence, a ...

Signers of letter hope Vatican meeting will bring needed steps on crisis

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Signers of an open letter from Catholic women to Pope Francis urging "truth" and "transparency" on the growing sex abuse crisis expressed ...

Community 'overwhelmed and shell-shocked' after gas explosions, says pastor

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Down to earth: Vatican brings together world's meteorite curators

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) -- Rocks, mineral debris and even dust from space are kept in special collections, museums and laboratories all over the ...

Algerian martyrs to be beatified in Algeria Dec. 8

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The beatification of 19 martyrs of Algeria, including the seven Trappist monks of Tibhirine, will be celebrated Dec. 8 in Oran, ...

'Anything but a picnic' - Cardinal Dolan on the Church's summer of scandal

New York City, N.Y., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Cardinal Timothy Dolan has spoken about how the extended sexual abuse scandals facing the Church have taken a ...

Restoring and reimagining: Transformation at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross

BOSTON -- Considered by many to be the heart of the Archdiocese of Boston, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross is the largest Catholic church in New England, ...

Archdiocese says Cardinal O'Malley will personally review all abuse letters

BRAINTREE (CAN) -- The Archdiocese of Boston has announced changes to the way it will process and respond to letters addressed to Cardinal Séan P. ...

CM receives $2.5M grant from Yawkey Foundations

West Roxbury -- Catholic Memorial, a college-preparatory school for boys in grades 7 to 12, announced Sept. 5 that they have received a $2.5 million grant ...

Father Christian Ohazulume removed from ministry

BRAINTREE -- The Archdiocese announced on Sept. 11 that it had removed a priest from ministry after receiving an allegation that he sexually abused a ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

This week I am in transit to Rome in anticipation of the next meeting of the C9 Council of Cardinals. So, I have asked Vivian Soper to share some reflections ...

Kavanaugh's birth control comments spur controversy -- What did he say?

Washington D.C. (CNA) -- Opponents of Judge Brett Kavanaugh have suggested that a reference to birth control pills as "abortion-inducing drugs" during ...

Missouri to enforce abortion regulations in wake of appeals court ruling

Jefferson City, Mo. (CNA) -- Missouri's health department announced Monday that it will immediately being enforcing state laws regulating abortion clinics ...

Book tells about behind-the-scenes search for St. Peter's bones

HOUSTON (CNS) -- Two Houston men shared a journey through centuries of history and a decades-long archaeological dig under the Vatican to unveil a story ...

Update way priests are chosen, accompanied, pope tells new bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The best way to help the Catholic Church, Pope Francis told new bishops, is not by pointing fingers and creating scapegoats, but ...

Vatican confirms ongoing Sistine Chapel Choir finance inquiry

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican confirmed an ongoing investigation into financial irregularities involving the directors of the Sistine Chapel Choir. ...

After meeting pope, cardinal says he's hopeful about addressing crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston struck a determinedly hopeful tone after his long-awaited meeting with Pope Francis ...

DA clears Indiana bishop of misconduct, says claim has harmed prelate

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend welcomed findings by a Pennsylvania district attorney that cleared Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades ...

Cardinal DiNardo calls meeting with pope lengthy, fruitful

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Cardinal Daniel DiNardo has called a Sept. 13 meeting between Pope Francis and leaders from the Church in United ...

What do Church abuse policies mean by 'vulnerable adult?'

Denver, Colo., Sep 12, 2018 CNA.- A Vatican summit this February will gather the presidents of bishops’ conferences from around the world. While ...

'Elitist, clericalist' church allows abuse to thrive, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Sexual and physical abuse by priests and religious and the scandal of its cover-up by church authorities thrive in countries where ...

Cardinal Wuerl to ask pope to accept his resignation

Washington D.C., Sep 12, 2018 CNA.- An archdiocesan spokesman has confirmed that Cardinal Donald Wuerl will soon ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation ...

Pope accepts resignation of West Virginia bishop as inquiry into abuse claims launched

Vatican City, Sep 13, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Pope Francis Thursday accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield from the pastoral government ...