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Volunteering Cuts Heart Disease Risk

Update Date: Jun 13, 2013 01:47 PM EDT

A new study reveals more reasons why you should start helping others.  Researchers found that volunteering can help protect older people against high blood pressure.

The study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University reveals that older adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours per year decrease their risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure by 40 percent.

The findings published in the journal Psychology and Aging, suggests that helping others may be an effective, non-pharmaceutical method to help prevent hypertension, a condition that affects an estimated 65 million Americans and is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease.

"Everyday, we are learning more about how negative lifestyle factors like poor diet and lack of exercise increase hypertension risk," lead study author Dr. Rodlescia S. Sneed said in a statement.

"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 added.

The study involved 1,164 U.S. adults between the ages of 51 and 91.  The participants were interviewed once in 2006 and once on 2010, and all had normal blood pressure levels at the first interview. Researchers measured participants' volunteerism, various social and psychological factors and blood pressure in 2006 and in 2010.

The findings revealed that participants who reported at least 200 hours of volunteer work during the initial interview were 40 percent less likely to develop hypertension than those who did not volunteer when evaluated four years later. Researchers noted that the specific type of volunteer work did not matter- only the amount of time spent volunteering.

"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 concluded. "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."

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