Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Older adults, volunteering and health. Down, down, the blood pressure's down when you volunteer.

Are you an Elder yet? If you are in your senior years, I highly commend Ronni Bennett's blog, Time Goes By,  to you.  I was so taken with this post of Ronni's that I have to snitch it to ensure that Networkers get a look at it.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Volunteering Linked to Reduced Risk of Hypertension

”New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that older adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours per year decrease their risk of hypertension, or high blood pressure, by 40 percent.
Hypertension is estimated to affect 65 million Americans. It leads to cardiovascular disease which is the number one killer in the United States. So this is fascinating news for elders who are physically able to contribute.
As reported at ScienceDaily, 1,164 adults age 51 to 91 from across the United States were interviewed in 2006 and 2010. All participants registered normal blood pressure levels in the first interview and each time, volunteering along with social and psychological factors were measured. (Emphasis is mine)
”...showed that those who reported at least 200 hours [per year] 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.

The specific type of volunteer activity was not a factor - only the amount of time spent volunteering led to increased protection from hypertension."
Isn't that the most terrific thing? Just helping others goes a long way to reducing the risk of high blood pressure. And the amount of time isn't much. There are approximately 250 business days per year which is equal to 2,000 hours. So only one-tenth of the time we spent employed, on average, is effective.
Certainly, regular TGB readers know how I bash on from time to time about how blogging – writing or reading – helps reduce isolation and loneliness at a time in life when we no longer have the camaraderie of the workplace and some other means of social interaction. That appears to also be true for volunteering.
The lead author of this research, Rodlescia S. Sneed, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology in [Carnegie Mellon's] Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Science suggests that this is what is at work in the reduced hypertension risk with 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. Participating in volunteer activities may provide older adults with social connections that they might not have otherwise.”
Exercise is good for reducing blood pressure. So is maintaining a reasonable body weight, they tell us, along with eating a healthy diet and cutting back on sodium intake.
Now we know that something as fulfilling as helping out others can give a big boost to our health. It's something anyone can do - even if you cannot get out and about easily, there is plenty of need for people who can contribute via telephone and computer.
In reporting on this research WebMD warns to keep in mind that the study "found an association between time spent volunteering and blood pressure levels, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.”
Okay. But there is at least one other study that seems to agree. Earlier this year, EverydayHealth reported on similar results with volunteer adolescents:
”After ten weeks, researchers found that the students who volunteered had decreased cholesterol, BMI, and inflammation when compared to those who did not get the opportunity to volunteer.

"'The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behaviour and mental health were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health,' study author Hannah Schreier, PhD, said in a press release.”
This news – for young and old - seems to me to be the sort that if you'd ever given it serious thought, you might have deduced it for yourself. It feels intuitively right, don't you think, that doing things that make you feel good, especially while helping others, would be a health-giving activity?

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