Volunteer Engagement and Systemic Inflammation: Does Helping Others Benefit Oneself?

TitleVolunteer Engagement and Systemic Inflammation: Does Helping Others Benefit Oneself?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsBell, M, Ferraro, KF, Sauerteig-Rolston, MR
ISSN Number1758-5341
KeywordsC-reactive protein, Inflammation, Prosocial activity, volunteer

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Although research on the health benefits of volunteering has proliferated, most studies are cross-sectional and rely on self-reported measures of health. Drawing from role theory, the objectives of this study are to examine if (1) volunteering engagement is related to systemic inflammation in later life, as measured by C-reactive protein (CRP), (2) the effect of volunteering varies by age and (3) volunteering is related to change in CRP over time.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: This study uses four waves of data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey of adults 50 years or older. Nested linear regression models were used to examine the relationship between volunteer engagement and CRP concentration in later life. Residualized regression models were used to examine the effects of volunteer engagement on change in CRP.

RESULTS: Results revealed that volunteering is modestly associated with lower CRP concentration, but only for respondents 65+. Highly engaged volunteers had lower CRP than both mid-level and non-volunteers. Longitudinal analyses revealed a leveling of the beneficial effect of volunteering by age, indicative of reduced returns among the oldest respondents in our sample.

DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS: These results support previous studies that volunteering, and doing so at a high engagement level, is associated with slightly lower levels of CRP. Leaders in medicine, public health, and social services should consider implementing volunteering programs for older adults.

Citation Key12456
PubMed ID35640008