Volunteering might literally be good for your heart, a new study suggests.
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found an association between volunteerism and decreased risk of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke, heart failure and metabolic syndrome.
"Participating in volunteer activities may provide older adults with social connections that they might not have otherwise," Rodlescia S. Sneed, who is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the university's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said in a statement. "There is strong evidence that having good social connections promotes healthy aging and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes."
The study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, included 1,164 adults between ages 51 and 91, who all had normal blood pressure levels at the beginning of the study in 2006. Researchers interviewed the study participants about their volunteerism and other factors at the start of the study, and then again at the end of the study in 2010. The participants also had their blood pressure taken at the end of the study.
They found that older adults who spent at least 200 hours a year volunteering seemed to have a 40 percent lower risk of high blood pressure by the end of the study, compared with those who didn't volunteer at all. Researchers didn't find that the type of volunteer work seemed to matter in lowering hypertension risk.
"Our findings suggest that volunteerism may be an effective, nonpharmacological intervention for reducing hypertension risk. Future research should more precisely explore possible biological and psychological mechanisms linking volunteerism to hypertension, such as neurohormonal changes that may result from the initiation of volunteer activities or changes in psychological stress, social connectedness, or self-esteem that may decrease disease risk," the researchers wrote in the study.
Older adults aren't the only ones who can benefit from volunteerism -- a study published earlier this year in the journal JAMA Pediatrics shows that volunteering is linked with lower inflammation, cholesterol and body mass index in high-schoolers, Everyday Health reported.
For more ways volunteering can better your health, click through the slideshow: