Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 83, Issue 5, pp 954–969 | Cite as

Volunteering: A Physical Activity Intervention for Older Adults—The Experience Corps® Program in Baltimore

  • Erwin J. TanEmail author
  • Qian-Li Xue
  • Tao Li
  • Michelle C. Carlson
  • Linda P. Fried


There is compelling evidence supporting the benefits of increased regular physical activity in older adults. The Experience Corps program in Baltimore MD was designed in part as a community based approach to increasing physical activity that would also appeal to older adults who have historically not utilized health promotion programs. The Baltimore Experience Corps program places older volunteers in public elementary schools for 15 h a week in roles designed to improve the academic outcomes of children and, simultaneously, increase the physical, cognitive and social activity of volunteers. This paper reports on the change in physical activity levels among older adults associated with participation in the Baltimore Experience Corps. In a pilot randomized controlled evaluation, older adults were randomly assigned to Experience Corps (EC participants) or a waiting list control group. Ages ranged from 59–86 years, 96% were African American, 94% were women, and 84% had annual incomes less than $15,000. EC participants were required to serve ≥15 h a week. At follow-up after 4–8 months, an analysis of 113 randomized volunteers revealed 53% of the EC participants were more active than the previous year by self-report, as compared to 23% of the controls (p<0.01). When adjusted for age, gender and education, there was a trend toward increased physical activity in the EC participants as calculated by a kilocalorie per week increase of 40%, versus a 16% decrease in the controls (p=0.49). EC participants who reported “low activity” at baseline experienced an average 110% increase in their physical activity at follow-up. Among the controls who were in the “low activity” group at baseline, there was, on average, only a 12% increase in physical activity (p=0.03). Among those who were previously active, there was no significant difference (p=0.30). The pilot results suggest that a high intensity volunteer program that is designed as a health promotion intervention can lead, in the short-term, to significant improvements in the level of physical activity of previously inactive older adult volunteers.


Volunteerism Retirement Exercise Health disparities Randomized controlled trial Experience Corps African American Physical activity Task force on community preventive services Intervention 



This work was supported, in part, by funding from the following sources: The Retirement Research Foundation, the Erickson Foundation, the state of Maryland, the state of Maryland Department of Education, the City of Baltimore, the Baltimore City Public Schools, the Baltimore City Commission on Aging and Retirement Education, the Johns Hopkins Prevention Center, The John A. Hartford Foundation, The Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, and the Corporation for National and Community Service. We would like to thank AARP for crucial support with recruitment and Mrs. Sylvia McGill for all her work in the Experience Corps Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial.


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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erwin J. Tan
    • 1
    Email author
  • Qian-Li Xue
  • Tao Li
  • Michelle C. Carlson
  • Linda P. Fried
  1. 1.Division of Geriatric Medicine and GerontologyJohns Hopkins Center on Aging and HealthBaltimoreUSA

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