Volunteering helps reduce hypertension in seniors

By Sheryl Kay • Published: September 30th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It’s easy to think of the interpersonal benefits that come from volunteering. From simply providing assistance to fellow human beings, to doing one’s civic duty, helping others brings joy and fulfillment to everyone involved.

Now new research shows volunteers get more than just fuzzy feelings from their acts; there’s an apparent physical benefit as well. Recently published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychology and Aging journal, the study involved almost 1,200 adults between the ages of 50 and 90. All those who participated were interviewed twice … the first time in 2006 when all had normal blood pressure levels, and then again four years later. Volunteerism and various social and psychological factors were measured each time, too.

Careful analysis showed that people who volunteered 200 or more hours a year were 40 percent less likely to suffer from high blood pressure than those who did not give their time as often. The type of work had no effect. No matter how the participants chose to volunteer their time, the results were the same.

Although the study did not indicate the exact reason for why there was such a substantial reduction in high blood pressure for those who volunteered, the researchers think it may relate to social benefits. Older adults may have less chance for social interaction because of empty nests, retirement, and the death of friends and spouses. Taking part in volunteer pursuits may provide these seniors with social connections that they might not have had otherwise, thereby advancing healthy aging and reducing the risk for a number of maladies … including high blood pressure.

If you have time to spare, volunteering could just be the ticket to helping others — and helping yourself.