February 27, 2009

School volunteering helps elderly health

Older African-American women who volunteer in U.S. elementary schools are more physically active and this activity is sustained over time, researchers say.

The study, led by Erwin Tan, of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said those who volunteered burned twice as many calories as those who did not.

Tan suggests that the country's investment in national and community service programs can simultaneously be an investment in public health.

For our volunteers, volunteering with children may be as good for their health as a gym membership, Tan said in a statement.

For our children, the wisdom that our older adults have is priceless. Tan added that due to their enjoyment of working with children, the volunteers may be more willing to keep up with this approach in the long term, compared with traditional exercise programs.

Tan also explained that the focus on African-American women age 60 and older was due to their prevalence in the two community groups from which the study participants were recruited, but he said the results are likely the same for all older people.

The findings are published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.