Proof: Volunteering takes the pressure off!

Older man feeling free

We here at Reach are always saying that volunteering is good for you- and now we have the medical science to back us up!

A recent study released by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has revealed a surprising fringe benefit to volunteering; it could substantially reduce the risk of high blood pressure in adults. The study was held over 1,164 adults aged 51 to 91, and involved conducting an interview and blood-test check in 2006, followed by another in 2010 intended to measure what percentage of those surveyed registered an increase in blood pressure, by how much, and what lifestyle choices could be seen as contributing factors.

The study took place in America, a country with an estimated 68 million high blood pressure sufferers a year. Here in the UK we have a similarity troubling level of blood pressure danger, with 32% of our adult male and 30% of our adult female population suffering high levels at any one time- that’s approximately 16 million people. Hypertension significantly increases risks of heart problems and preventable stokes and, what’s worse, it’s an illness that is rarely accompanied by any obvious external symptoms. It’s a serious problem that is best tackled by prevention through lifestyle choices like diet- and, it seems, volunteering.

The Carnegie Mellon study discovered that, among the interviewed, those who reported at least 200 hours of volunteering per week were 40% less likely to develop hypertension than those who did not. Interestingly, the study found nothing to indicate that the specific type of volunteering had any effect on the results- apparently, any kind of volunteering will do, as long as it’s done for long enough!

Hypertensive risk is particularly strong among the elderly and retirees. Says Rodlescia S. Sneed, the lead author of the study: “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. There is strong evidence that having good social connections promotes healthy aging and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes.” It seems that, if you’re looking to retire, there are worse things to do with your time than look into a bit of self-preserving volunteering!

Hypertension has also been linked to working in high-stress professional environments, like demanding  jobs. So if you’re finding it all a bit much, letting the work and deadline pressure weigh down on you, then… take a holiday, relax for a while! But when you get back, perhaps consider that volunteering may well have benefits that are physical as well as psychological and that, far from piling on your valuable time with extra work, volunteering time may well contribute significantly to your ability to function more healthily and efficiently in your day-to-day life.

Of course, let’s not get too carried away here- we’re not suggesting volunteering is some kind of magical life-boosting panacea (well, we are, but mostly in hyperbole). But this is just one more indication that the benefits of volunteering are numerous, and go beyond the obvious- though still important- surface boons like increasing the content of your CV. It can improve you as a person- not just mentally, but also physically… and it can do so while you improve the lives of others. It’s a real no-lose situation, and you can trust us when we say- it’s good for you!

Elliot is Reach’s dedicated volunteer blogger
July 2nd, 2013 by