For older adults, volunteering may be an effective activity that not only helps their communities but also promotes personal health. Carnegie Mellon University researchers in Pittsburgh found that older adults who volunteer at least 200 hours per year in any type of activity decrease their risk of hypertension by as much as 40%.
Lead study author Rodlescia S. Sneed, a PhD candidate in psychology in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said in a Carnegie Mellon press release, "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 and associates interviewed 1,164 adults, aged 51-91, in 2006 and 2010, and recorded blood pressure levels, volunteerism and other social and psychological factors each time.
"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 said. "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 study appeared in Psychology and Aging (2013; , 578-86; doi: 10.1037/a0032718), the journal of the American Psychological Association.