Volunteering in elementary schools isn’t just good for kids; new research shows that older African-American women who spent 15 hours a week or more helping out in classrooms were significantly more physically active than their peers who didn’t engage in volunteer activity.
“We saw this over a three-year period of time, so it’s sustained,” Dr. Erwin Tan of the Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health in Baltimore told Reuters Health.
Tan and his colleagues are following participants in the Experience Corps program, which places older people in public elementary schools in 20 US cities, including Baltimore.
The current report, published in the Journal of Gerontology, is a three-year follow-up on 71 program participants in Baltimore, who ranged in age from 65 to 86 at the study’s outset.
Compared to 150 women of similar socioeconomic status, age, and health who were not engaging in volunteer activities, Tan and his team found, the volunteers consistently burned 50 percent more calories per week in physical activity.
As the US population gets older and lives longer, Tan noted, programs like this one that help older people become more active while helping others will be increasingly important. The findings support the increasingly popular idea of a “multigenerational social contract,” in which people of all ages can benefit from interacting with one another, he added.
“It’s kind of a neat thing that this generation that saw the desegregation of the school system, all these volunteers, are really excited about being back in the schools trying to help the children of the next generation,” Tan said.
SOURCE: Journals of Gerontology, January 29, 2009.