A randomized controlled trial and pragmatic analysis of the effects of volunteering on the health and well-being of older people

  • Simone PettigrewEmail author
  • Michelle I. Jongenelis
  • Ben Jackson
  • Jeni Warburton
  • Robert U. Newton
Original Article



Volunteering among older people has the potential to deliver health benefits to the individual, along with economic and social benefits to society. However, it is not clear whether healthier people are more likely to engage in volunteering, whether volunteering improves health, or the extent to which the relationship may be reciprocal. There is an identified need for longitudinal work, especially in the form of randomized controlled trials, to establish causality.


To assess the effects of commencing volunteering among older non-volunteers utilizing a randomized controlled trial approach involving per-protocol and pragmatic analyses.


Of the 445 Australians aged 60 + years who participated in the study, 201 were assigned to an intervention arm that required them to participate in a minimum of 1 h/week of formal volunteering in a position of their choice. The remaining participants were assigned to a control condition and asked to continue their lives as usual, but were not discouraged from commencing volunteering.


Across the assessed physical, psychological, and social variables, a significant difference in sit-to-stand scores was found in both the per-protocol and pragmatic analyses, and a further significant difference in the fast pace walk was identified in the pragmatic analyses.


The results provide some support for policies and programs designed to encourage older people to engage in volunteering to maintain or improve their health.

Trial registration

Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12615000091505.


Volunteering Health promotion Exercise 



The authors wish to thank Nicole Biagioni, Zenobia Talati, and the team of staff and students at Curtin University and the Vario Health Clinic at Edith Cowan University for their assistance with data collection.

Author contributions

SP conceptualized the study and took primary responsibility for preparing the manuscript. MJ conducted the analyses and assisted with study design and manuscript preparation. RN, BJ, and JW provided conceptual input for the study design and contributed to the preparation of the manuscript. The funder played no role in the conducting of the research or the reporting of the results.


This work was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant (DP140100365).

Compliance with ethical standards

Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All the procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Statement on the welfare of animals

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

40520_2019_1241_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 23 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PsychologyCurtin UniversityBentleyAustralia
  2. 2.School of Human Sciences (Exercise and Sports Science)University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  3. 3.La Trobe Rural Health SchoolLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.School of Medical and Health SciencesEdith Cowan UniversityPerthAustralia

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