We all experience it, even if we don’t want to admit it: loneliness. Especially during this period of self-isolation to protect our physical well-being, we put ourselves at risk as we reduce our social connections.

Loneliness and social isolation are now believed to be as dangerous to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and surpass the mortality risks of obesity. Several research studies have shown a strong correlation between social interaction and health and well-being among older adults. For example:

· Positive indicators of social well-being may be associated with lower levels of inflammatory factor implicated in age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.

· Social relationships are consistently associated with biomarkers of health.

· Whether or not you are healthy, those who are more socially connected live longer.

According to the people who do research on loneliness, what lonely people crave are “core values and shared life experiences,” according to researcher Stephanie Cacioppo. She adds. “We all need a witness to our lives and people to look after. Our survival and well-being depend on our collective well-being, not our individual might. Which is why something like volunteering — helping others — really helps.”

How does volunteering keep older adults alive and thriving? Overall, volunteering is associated with an active lifestyle, leading to better health in later years. Studies have shown that Americans over age 60 who volunteer reported higher levels of well-being and lower rate of disability than those who did not volunteer, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. The effects of volunteering were found to be greater than other factors known to be correlated with high health status, including income, education level or marriage.

Older adults undergoing transitions, such as retirement or loss of a spouse, find that volunteering can provide a sense of purpose, decreasing the risk of isolation and depression. During our current situation, finding purpose serving others both benefits the volunteer and the person receiving the service. Everybody wins.

See if volunteering is a good fit for you by contacting Community Thread. We work with volunteers ready to leave a legacy with their good works by matching them with a nonprofit organization seeking individuals. Community Thread is currently seeking volunteers for our Chore Services and Transportation program, helping older adults live independently. We have put practices into place to protect both volunteers and service recipients, who are grateful for the volunteers who make a difference in their lives.

After completing an initial assessment of your interests and background, Community Thread staff will provide a personalized referral of opportunities that match your needs and interests. Give us a call at 651-439-7434 and ask for the Volunteer Center or search our volunteer database, Community Thread Connect (www.communitythreadconnect.org) to find individual volunteer opportunities.

As stated by the late John Cacioppo, “To grow into adulthood for a social species, including humans, is not to become autonomous and solitary; it is to become one that others can depend upon. Become a part of something bigger than yourself.” And fight the L word at the same time.