aging

Lower risk of hypertension for seniors who volunteer

CARNEGIE MELLON (US) — Older adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours a year can decrease their risk of high blood pressure by 40 percent, a new study finds.

The specific type of volunteer activity doesn’t matter, researchers say. It’s the amount of time spent volunteering that leads to increased protection from hypertension.

The study suggests that volunteer work may be an effective non-pharmaceutical option to help prevent the condition. Hypertension affects an estimated 65 million Americans and is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the US.

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“Everyday, we are learning more about how negative lifestyle factors like poor diet and lack of exercise increase hypertension risk,” says Rodlescia S. Sneed, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at Carnegie Mellon University.

“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.”

For the study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, Sneed and Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology, studied 1,164 adults between the ages of 51 and 91 from across the US. The participants were interviewed twice, in 2006 and 2010, and all had normal blood pressure levels at the first interview. Volunteerism, various social and psychological factors, and blood pressure were measured each time.

The results showed that those 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.

“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 says.

“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.”

The National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging and National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine supported this research.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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