Measuring the Impact of Volunteering on Physical Activity Using Data from the Health and Retirement Study
Clark, Julia R.
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BACKGROUND: This study measures the impact of volunteering type and intensity on different aspects of physical activity including meeting recommended activity guidelines and level of intensity. METHODS: Four waves and eight years of longitudinal data on a nationally representative sample of Americans, 50 and older were used. RESULTS: As predicted, volunteering was associated with increased physical activity with respect to likelihood to meet guidelines and higher intensity of physical activity after adjusting for baseline age, gender, education, self-rated health and comorbidities and physical activity. Volunteers were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines and to maintain a higher likelihood of meeting guidelines than non-volunteers. In addition, volunteers were less likely to exhibit depressive symptoms, report decreases in functional limitation or decreases in self-rated health than those who did not volunteer. Number of hours of volunteering was significantly and positively associated with increased likelihood to meet guidelines. Finally, analyses found that older adults who volunteered with children had lower likelihood of depression and improvements in several psychosocial variables including social network and social support scores compared to older adults who volunteered but did not volunteer with children. CONCLUSIONS: Results suggest that volunteering could be a mechanism to help older adults meet and maintain the meeting of physical activity guidelines over time. Volunteering also appears to be associated with reduction of depressive symptoms, functional limitations and decreases in self-rated health over time. Finally, volunteering with children could act as a buffer to mediate lower social support and reports of negative familial support. The amount of volunteering required to confer maximum health benefits should be further explored. Future studies should also further examine the casual relationship between volunteering and physical activity.
Health and Retirement Study