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Pumping Goodwill: Study Finds Elders Improve Health By Volunteering

New America Media, News Report, Posted: Mar 10, 2009

Pumping Goodwill: Study Finds Elders Improve Health By Volunteering

For elders, volunteering with children may be as good for their health as a gym membership, says Johns Hopkins University researcher Erwin Tan, who headed a study of older African American women.

RESOURCE FOR JOURNALISTS: Report Calls for Better Social Security Protections for Vulnerable Groups

Strengthening Social Security for Vulnerable Groups is a new report from the nonpartisan National Academy for Social Insurance (NASI) proposing changes in 12 sections of the Social Security Act.

Pumping GoodwillStudy Finds Elders Improve Health By Volunteering

For elders, volunteering with children may be as good for their health as a gym membership, said Erwin Tan of the Johns Hopkins University Center on Health and Aging in Baltimore.

Tan was the lead author of a new study showing that older African American women ages 60-plus, who volunteer in elementary schools, are not only peppier than other elders but remain more physically active over time.

Whats teaching grade-school tykes got to do with an elders health? Physical activity is the leading cause of preventable death, state the researchers, yet more than half of older Americans get no regular exercise.

Among the findings was that those who volunteered burned twice as many calories as nonvolunteers in the comparison group. Tan and his research team report in the latest issue of The Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences that they spent three years following the progress of 71 black women (average age 73), who volunteered in elementary schools in Baltimore.

Although the Experience Corps program Tan and his coauthors studied happened to include mainly black elders, they emphasized, that the potential health benefits of community volunteering should also accrue to older adults in any demographic group.

The new study builds on Tans 2006 research showing that 15 hours of volunteer work per week at an elementary school nearly doubled a sedentary older adults activity level. The current report demonstrates that the increased activity can remain high for at least three years.

Experience Corps participants receive a small stipend to cover transportation and related expenses making volunteering a more viable option for financially challenged older adults, the authors explain.

Increased access to national can community service may address certain health disparities in African American and other disadvantaged older adults, conclude the researchers, while also helping meet social needs.

Not only did the elders in the study benefit, according to Tan, for our children, the wisdom that our older adults have is priceless.

[Journalists can obtain the article, titled The Long-Term Relationship Between High-Intensity Volunteering and Physical Activity in Older African American Women by contacting Todd Kluss at the Gerontological Society of America, at tkluss@geron.org.]

RESOURCE FOR JOURNALISTS: Report Calls for Better Social Security Protections for Vulnerable Groups

Journalists can find a gold mine worth of story leads in a new report published by the nonpartisan National Academy for Social Insurance (NASI), based in Washington, D.C. Most mainstream coverage of Social Security involves big-ticket debates over the programs solvency. But the problems identified in this report hit people closer to home level, often in ethnic minority communities

One of the 12 issues addressed in the new report, Strengthening Social Security for Vulnerable Groups, is how low-income elders and people with disabilities can be protected from having their Social Security benefits garnished by creditors. Another paper explores what can be done to stop agribusinesses from misclassifying farm workers as self-employed, thus reducing or eliminating their pensions.

The dozen public policy papers in the report are described in a one-paragraph summary in the beginning of the publication. Each paper explains issues little known to the public. The chapters propose policy changes that would improve the lot of vulnerable people, who find themselves entangled in the complications of Social Security.

Another issue covered in the papers is the need to ease barriers in navigating the disability-claims process when applicants have the double burden of homelessness and serious mental illness. An additional paper examines increasing benefits for such groups as widowed spouses, low-paid worker and beneficiaries who live to advanced ages.

To download the 59-page report, which was funded by the Rockefeller Foundations Campaign for American Workers, visit the NASI website at www.nasi.org.

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