Official Newsletter of the President's Challenge


Gentle Activity: Volunteering and Walking to Better Mental and Physical Health

Better, stronger, faster, longer. In our prime, we expect the best payoff to our health when we are pushing our physical and mental limits. More time on the treadmill equals more calories burned equals less weight equals better health. However, research shows that any activity has positive health benefits. Not being able to or even motivated to work out, run several miles a day, or play a mean game of tennis doesn’t justify just sitting around.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that older adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours per year not only feel better mentally for doing good work for others, but they decrease their risk high blood pressure by 40 percent. The study, published by the American Psychological Association’s Psychology and Aging journal, suggests that volunteer work may be an effective non-pharmaceutical option to help prevent the hypertension. A report, The Health Benefits of Volunteering, outlines the research supporting a healthy dose of volunteering, including findings from the Longitudinal Study on Aging, which show that volunteering lengthens a person’s life.

Like volunteering, there is plenty of evidence to support daily walking, especially for older Americans. Research from George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services finds that a simple 15-minute walk after benefits-of-walking each meal may help older people control their blood sugar and could reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The study, published recently in Diabetes Care, found that three short post-meal walks were as effective at reducing blood sugar over 24 hours as a 45-minute walk of the same easy-to-moderate pace. Post-meal walking was also significantly more effective than a sustained walk at lowering blood sugar for up to three hours following the evening meal. This article in Arthritis Today highlights the research behind the many mental benefits of walking—from slowing mental decline and Alzheimer’s risk, to improving sleep and mood.