Volunteer work is a great way to give to the community of your choice, and new research shows that it can also be beneficial for health reasons. A study of older women found that the women who did volunteer work were more physically active and burned more calories than those who did not.
The study was reported in The Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences. Women in the study were African American women, 60 years and older. They volunteered in elementary schools.
The study of volunteers was led by Erin Tan, PhD, Johns Hopkins University. Tan suggested that volunteer programs can be an investment in public health.
Tan made a statement, in a press release that for the volunteers, working with children could be as beneficial as a membership in a gym. Older adults have a fountain of wisdom to pass on to children. Volunteers who enjoy working with children may be willing to stick with the volunteer work for the long term.
Tan explained that although the focus of this study was on African American women, it is likely that the results would be the same for all older people.
The research in this study built on the results of a study in 2006 that showed that sedentary people who volunteered 15 hours a week nearly doubled their activity level.
A different study, led by Michelle Carlson, PhD, was published in The Gerontologist, December 2008. Carlson reported similar findings regarding cognitive benefits for volunteers.
The volunteers showed improvements in executive function and memory than people who did not participate. The older adults starting out with the lowest baseline in showed the most significant gains.
Both of these studies showed that everyday activities can appeal to the desires of older adults to be productive and socially engaged. The activities involved in volunteer work can benefit older people physically and mentally.
Working with children is an excellent form of volunteer work for people who enjoy spending time with young people. Time can be spent passing on the wisdom acquired through a lifetime. Children and youth are physically lively and mentally curious. Spending time with young people can help older people exercise their minds and bodies.
Older people with the desire to get out into society and volunteer, particularly with children, may find that they can help the community and benefits their physical and mental health at the same time.
The Gerontological Society of America: Older Women Find Health Benefits Through Volunteer Program, press release, February 26, 2009. EurekAlert.
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