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50+: Live Better, Longer

Baby Boomers: A New Way to Grow Old

Experts explain why baby boomers aren't likely to rest on their laurels when they retire.
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Baby Boomer Skills continued...

"The boomers will not accept the old notions of later life and retirement," he writes. "They will refuse to remove themselves, go away, or put up with being taken 'out of use or circulation.'"

Freedman also helped found Experience Corps, which recruits older people to tutor and serve as mentors to inner-city school children. Experience Corps operates in 14 cities and has more than 1,800 volunteers who spend at least 15 hours a week helping children.

This obviously is a great benefit to the children, an example of what Freedman calls the "potential windfall" to American society that baby boomers can provide.

Volunteerism and Health

But the volunteer experience also has improved the physical and mental health of the Experience Corps volunteers, according to Linda Fried, MD, director of the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University.

Fried studied 128 Experience Corps volunteers, ages 60-86, who helped students at six Baltimore public schools improve their reading skills. The volunteers were compared to a group of similar people who were not doing the Experience Corps volunteer work.

Fried found that 44% of the volunteers, predominately black women, reported feeling stronger, compared with 18% of the comparison group. Among volunteers, there was a 13% increase in those who reported their strength as very good to excellent, compared to a 30% decline among the comparison group.

The use of a cane decreased by 50% among volunteers, compared with 20% among those in the comparison group.

Television viewing declined by 4% among the volunteers, but increased by 18% among those in the comparison group.

"A lot of older adults spend four to five hours a day watching TV," Fried tells WebMD. "Some activities stimulate brain activity; television watching doesn't and may have negative effects. People in the [comparison] group were increasing their TV watching."

The benefits of volunteering extended into the social realm as well. Volunteers reported an increase in the number of people they could turn to for help, while those in the comparison group reported a decline.

And 98% of volunteers said they were satisfied with their volunteering experience; 80% of them returned the following year. Children also benefited with higher test scores and better behavior in school.

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