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How Good Deeds Lead to Great Blood Pressure

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If you had an extra $40 in your pocket to spend on anything you wanted, would you spend it on yourself or on someone else? Surprisingly, the answer to that question could make all of the difference in the world when it comes to your blood pressure.

In a study published in the journal Health Psychology, researchers recruited a group of older adults with high blood pressure and then, gave each of the participant’s $40 a week for three weeks.

Half of the participants were told to spend the money on themselves, while the other half was assigned to spend it on others. Guess what happened next?

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Generosity is Good for Your Blood Pressure

It turned out that hypertensive patients who spent money on others had a significant reduction in blood pressure and they seemed to benefit the most, from spending money on people they felt closest to. The effects were so dramatic that they were comparable to taking blood pressure medication, high-frequency exercise or diet modification.

Those who spent money on themselves, on the other hand, had no change in blood pressure.

There may be several reasons for this positive effect on blood pressure, including:

  • Enhancement of positive emotions (and/or reduced negative emotions)
  • Increased social connections
  • Higher feelings of self-worth
  • Protection from social isolation
  • The promotion of higher levels of belief in one’s self

Good Deeds Translate to a Longer and Healthier Life

This isn’t the only research that finds doing good deeds promotes a healthier life.

For example, studies repeatedly show that people who volunteer their time to help others live longer than those who don’t. Not only that, but volunteering is also associated with reduced symptoms of depression, better self-reported health and fewer functional limitations.

It also appears to increase cognitive activity, which may help reduce the risk of dementia in later years.

Other research reveals that giving reduces activity in stress and threat-related areas of the brain during stressful situations. This reduction in stress may be responsible for some of the health benefits and extended longevity associated with giving.

 

SOURCES:

Whillans AV, et al. Is spending money on others good for your heart? Health Psychol. 2016 Jun;35(6):574-83.

Okun MA, et al. Volunteering by older adults and risk of mortality: a meta-analysis. Psychol Aging. 2013 Jun;28(2):564-77.

Anderson ND, et al. The benefits associated with volunteering among seniors: a critical review and recommendations for future research. Psychol Bull. 2014 Nov;140(6):1505-33.

Wolters Kluwer Health. “Giving support to others, not just receiving it, has beneficial effects.” ScienceDaily. Feb 2016.

 

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