Retiree environmental volunteers less depressed

Apr 15, 2010 By Ted Boscia
Retiree environmental volunteers less depressed
A volunteer working with the Environmental Volunteerism and Civic Engagement program in Ithaca.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Retirees volunteering on environmental projects could not only prompt you to get more exercise but also improve mental and physical health through old age, according to a new Cornell study.

Heads up, retirees: Volunteering on environmental projects could not only prompt you to get more exercise but also improve mental and physical through old age, according to a new Cornell study published online in The Gerontologist (Feb. 19).

The study found that environmental stewardship is strongly linked to greater physical activity, better self-rated health and fewer symptoms of depression over a period of 20 years. In fact, the researchers found that environmental volunteers are half as likely as non-volunteers to show 20 years later, whereas other forms of volunteering lower one's risk by roughly 10 percent.

What's more, environmental volunteers gain more dramatic health benefits compared with people engaged in other types of service, according to the study, which was conducted by researchers in the College of Human Ecology (CHE) and Weill Cornell Medical College.

"It's very rare in society that we get to address two problems at once," said lead author Karl Pillemer, professor of human development and CHE associate director of outreach and extension "As retire, they [create] a vast untapped resource to help improve our natural environment, which is a pressing need right now. The bonus is that by doing so they also gain substantial health benefits."

The authors analyzed data collected between 1974-1994 from the Alameda County (Calif.) Study, an examination of health and mortality that followed nearly 7,000 adults since 1965. They note that this is the first study to examine the health benefits of environmental volunteering in a large population over an extended period of time, unlike past studies that have focused on a one-time survey or data set.

Pillemer, who with Cornell researchers Linda Wagenet and Rhoda Meador launched an environmental stewardship training program for retirees in 2008, said the findings could prompt more conservation groups to embrace older volunteers.

"We associate environmental activism with younger adults, but it carries tremendous rewards for ," he said. "In addition to the benefits to physical health from being in nature, protecting the environment also helps older adults gain a sense of generativity, the notion of working to achieve something for the good of future generations. They can help the Earth and at the same time help themselves."

Co-author Nancy Wells, associate professor of design and environmental analysis, called the link between environmental service and improved physical and mental health "quite compelling."

"Time spent outdoors in the natural environment is a critical factor linking volunteering to the health outcomes observed in this study," Wells said. "Prior studies have shown that views of -- and time spent in -- the natural environment are associated with a variety of positive health outcomes, including cognitive functioning, psychological well-being and physical activity levels."

The researchers suggest further research to determine whether conservation activities could benefit older adults suffering from chronic conditions and persistent pain and to better understand the connection between such volunteering and health outcomes.

Explore further: Researchers discover what makes us feel European - and it's food

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Volunteering may prevent the elderly from becoming frail

Jan 08, 2010

Frailty is a geriatric condition marked by weight loss, low energy and strength, and low physical activity. UCLA researchers followed 1,072 healthy adults aged 70 to 79 between 1988 and 1991 to determine if productive activities ...

Quality of life study examines burden of epilepsy

Oct 29, 2007

A new study published in Epilepsia is the first to assess the prevalence of self-reported active epilepsy and health-related quality of life among adults with epilepsy in California.

Recommended for you

Residents of 'boom time' suburbs face unsustainable commutes

3 hours ago

People living in the 'boom time' suburbs of Dublin are more likely to endure unsustainable commutes to work than those living in older accommodation. Research shows that people living in newly constructed housing in the Greater ...

Male-biased tweeting

23 hours ago

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Developing nations ride a motorcycle boom

Apr 23, 2014

Asia's rapidly developing economies should prepare for a full-throttle increase in motorcycle numbers as average incomes increase, a new study from The Australian National University has found.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Male-biased tweeting

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

New breast cancer imaging method promising

The new PAMmography method for imaging breast cancer developed by the University of Twente's MIRA research institute and the Medisch Spectrum Twente hospital appears to be a promising new method that could ...

Research proves nanobubbles are superstable

The intense research interest in surface nanobubbles arises from their potential applications in microfluidics and the scientific challenge for controlling their fundamental physical properties. One of the ...

Using antineutrinos to monitor nuclear reactors

When monitoring nuclear reactors, the International Atomic Energy Agency has to rely on input given by the operators. In the future, antineutrino detectors may provide an additional option for monitoring. ...