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Baby Boomers: A New Way to Grow Old

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

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.

Boomer Idealism

By 2030, when the last of the boomers reach 65, the number of people in this country over 65 will be about 70 million -- double what it is today. More than 30% of the population will be over 50.

Never before in human history have so many healthy people reached such a late stage of life, and some worry that the costs of Medicare and Social Security will become an economic burden.

In contrast, David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, believes a significant portion of those costs will be offset by the contributions the older generation will make.

"Boomers came of age when Kennedy famously asked what they could do for their country, and that sense of idealism remains in place today," says Eisner, who promotes and develops volunteer opportunities for older Americans. "Our research shows many boomers are motivated to make a meaningful difference. We can't afford to lose the ingenuity and the creativity and the skills of this generation."

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