Volunteering to help others doesn't only feel good but it can also boost your heart health by reducing blood pressure, a new US study suggests.
The study involved 1,100 adults aged 51 to 91, who were interviewed about their volunteering habits and had their blood pressure checked at the beginning of the study and again four years later. All of the subjects had normal blood pressure readings at the time of the first interview.
Regardless of the type of volunteering activity the subjects engaged in, participants who said during the first interview that they volunteered for at least 200 hours per year were 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure four years later than those who did not volunteer.
The study is slated for publication in the journal Psychology and Aging.
"Every day, we are learning more about how negative lifestyle factors like poor diet and lack of exercise increase hypertension risk," lead author Rodlescia Sneed, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, said in a university news release.
"Here, we wanted to determine if a positive lifestyle factor like volunteer work could actually reduce disease risk. And, the results give older adults an example of something that they can actively do to remain healthy and age successfully," Sneed said.
"As people get older, social transitions like retirement, bereavement and the departure of children from the home often leave older adults with fewer natural opportunities for social interaction," Sneed added.
"Participating in volunteer activities may provide older adults with social connections that they might not have otherwise. There is strong evidence that having good social connections promotes healthy aging and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes."
A separate US study published earlier this year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics also linked volunteering with improved cardiovascular health in high school students.