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Gaining health while giving back to the community

Older adults who volunteer in troubled urban schools not only improve the educational experience of children, but realize meaningful improvements in their own mental and physical health, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

The Hopkins investigators base their conclusion on the first randomized clinical trial testing the health benefits of participating in an established volunteer program called Experience Corps in Baltimore.

"While our results are preliminary, what we found is a 'win-win' for everyone involved," says the study's lead author, Linda P. Fried, M.D., director of the Center on Aging and Health at Hopkins. "Giving back to your community may slow the aging process in ways that lead to a higher quality of life in older adults," she adds.

"Physical, cognitive and social activity increased in volunteers, suggesting potential for Experience Corps and similar programs to improve health for an aging population, while simultaneously improving educational outcomes for children," she said. "It potentially could have great social impact if taken to a large scale."

The study is published in the April issue of the Journal of Urban Health, which also includes companion studies by Hopkins researchers that found Experience Corps to be cost effective and detailed the educational boon to students.

Started in 1996, Experience Corps is an award-winning program that places teams of older adults in urban public schools as tutors and mentors. Currently, more than 1,000 Experience Corps members are volunteering in 100 elementary and middle schools in 18 cities across the country.

But the program was also designed to help adults keep healthy, say the Hopkins researchers. "Evidence is mounting that remaining active and engaged is beneficial as one ages, but our society has not developed approaches that support such activity for the broad spectrum of older adults," says Fried. "That's why we were eager
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6-Apr-2004


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